Fluorescing 3/16/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

“My diamond fluoresces.” She was a student in my class, and being a chemist, I knew that diamonds were nothing but an allotrope (a form of an element) of carbon, and carbon does not fluoresce. “No, it doesn’t,” I responded in the usual “I’m the expert and know everything” tone so popular with professors. But she insisted, and I had a black light in the lab so, of course, let’s check it out. And, yes, it fluoresced.

Diamonds are created in mines, deep in the earth under high pressure and high temperature over a brutally long period of time. Being that they are formed in earth, the carbon is not always as pure as you would find in reagent carbon you would buy for a lab. Usually, these impurities and imperfections appear as color variations and black flecks in the diamond itself, but, if that impurity happens to be the element boron (the central element in borax), then there is a hole in the electron structure of this diamond, a hole that allows the electrons to jump and play and fluoresce.

She noticed her diamond glowing in one of those stores that sells fluorescing tee shirts and posters. In the back where the black lights were burning, her diamond showed off, glowing and showing its inner hidden beauty.

You might be wondering if fluorescing diamonds makes the diamonds more valuable, or less. The reality is that the boron represents an impurity, so the purists would tell you that they are less valuable, but then there are people like me. If I were in love, I would buy her a diamond, and I would intentionally seek out fluorescing diamonds. Because there is a demand for these “impure” diamonds, they might actually be worth more.

To me, they are worth more.

How do you fluoresce? We, all of us, have a habit of looking at the impurities in ourselves, the flaws, those things we don’t like, and hope others don’t notice, and yet, we all have the capacity to glow. For some of us, it’s our hearts that shine forth for our loved ones in undying kindness and effort. For others, it’s our spirit that glows with indomitable strength in times of stress. For some, it shines through in their art, contributing to the beauty of the world around us, and for others, it might be in our skills as we plant gardens, or build structures.

I used to fluoresce in front of the class. There was a time when I could encourage my students, and teach complex concepts, helping the students (who wanted the help) to succeed where they were sure they would fail. I encouraged students to pursue their passions, whether or not it was in chemistry, and to question the world around them turning them into the kinds of critical thinkers we seem woefully short of these days. But, alas, my glow faded, and today I have no idea where I will again fluoresce. It’s not gone; I just need to find the venue in which it will reveal itself.

But we all have those times that we glow. We all fluoresce. I’m reminded of Cathryn the Canadian. When I as in college, she was just beautiful. Slender, blue eyes, long blonde hair, she looked like a Barbie doll. She must have been the most perfect looking woman I had ever known. But she wasn’t the most beautiful. I happen to know the most beautiful woman in the world, and it’s not the perfection that makes her such a beauty. It’s her flaws. Those little imperfections, her imperfect but very human body, it’s those things that I know she hates as she looks in the mirror that hang together so perfectly to make her, well, the true beauty that she is.

Far too many people in our world work so very hard to dim the light of others. I’ve known narcissists and people just afraid that somebody will outshine them. They’re so very good at making us doubt our own luminosity, trying to shine brighter by making those around them seem dimmer. Never let this happen. Never lost faith, never listen to the haters, and never try to live up to the expectations of others. You need only live up to your own potential; it’s already grand enough. The world is a dark and cold place, and we need all of the light that we can get. We need to boost each other up so all of our lights can add to chase away the darkness.

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