Cobalt

The university I went to had a nuclear reactor. A real one, underground. The radiation source was an unstable isotope of cobalt that glowed an eerie and otherworldly blue at the bottom of a huge pool.

I was a student there a few years before I found out. I walked over it on almost a daily basis.  I had no reason to know it was there until I did and so I didn’t. Naturally, as soon as I found out about the (really woefully and shockingly insecure) nuclear source under my campus, I became very paranoid that it would meltdown or be hijacked by terrorists. I wonder how many hours I have spent worrying about this.

I found out today that a friend of mine has cancer. She told me about her recent appointments and test results. We talked about the grieving process when you receive seriously health news. She hadn’t been having symptoms and the diagnosis took her completely by surprise.

We make a lot of the connection between our minds and bodies. We feel that this linkage is not only real but deeply spiritual, that it is the basis for our awareness of our very selves. We expect there to be signs when something is wrong with our bodies. We feel that we will intuitively known something is off when our bodies harbor such significant health issues. When we don’t, the betrayal is even more searing. We feel that we have failed ourselves in some way and that we have no one to blame but ourselves.

It is harder to reconcile your reality with your experience when the physical state of your body is at odds with your experience of living in it. It makes you wonder what would have happened if you just didn’t know. How many things do we notice only because we know this thing? How many things are significant only because we know this secret hidden inside ourselves? When would you have started to feel sick? Would you ever have noticed otherwise?

I am a scientist and the currency of science is inherently facts and truth. I have always felt it is better to know the facts both in my work and in my health. But it does make me wonder how much time I have lost to perseverating about unlikely worst case scenarios because I demand that knowledge. How much time I have spent being afraid of these things that never came to pass and probably never will? How long have I looked at this shimmering blue and convinced myself of a danger that was never real?