The Back Page – Finals

And it came to pass early on the first day of the last week of the semester, that there arose a multitude smiting their books and wailing. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth, for the day of judgment was at hand, and they were sore afraid. They had left undone those things that they ought to have done, and had done those things that they ought not.

And there was no help for them. And there were many abiding in their rooms who had kept watch over their books all night, to wit that very night before the hour of tribulation, but it availed naught. But others there were who arose peacefully, for all semester long they had prepared for themselves the way and had made straight the path of knowledge. These wise ones were known to some as burners of the midnight oil, but by others they were called curve lousers.

The multitude arose and broke their fast. Then came they all together unto the appointed place at the hour of doom, and their hearts were heavy within them. And they had come to pass, but some only passed out.

Among them were those who repented of their riotous living and bemoaned their fate, but they had not a prayer. And at the last hour there came among them one known as the instructor, he of the diabolical smile, who passed papers among them and went upon his way.

Many and varied were the answers that the multitudes inscribed upon those papers, for some of the instructor’s teachings had fallen among thorns, while still others had fallen upon fertile soil, and yet others had fallen flat. And many offered up a little baloney in an attempt to satisfy the instructor, but he swallowed it not.

And some there were who wrote for an hour, others who wrote for two, but many turned away sorrowful. And when they had finished, they gathered up their belongings and went quietly away, each in his own direction, and each one vowing to himself or herself in this manner: “I shall not pass this way again.”

[For our students, in fond memory of my days as a professor]

The Back Page – Water

H2O has unique properties that allow life to thrive. The angle between its two hydrogen atoms is 105°, giving each molecule a slight negative charge (δ– in the above illustration) on the oxygen end and positive charges (δ+) near each hydrogen. Consequently, individual molecules attract their neighbors, producing a “group feel.” This electrostatic attraction makes water a liquid at room temperature rather than a gas, as would be expected of such a light molecule. These hydrogen bonds (the dashed lines) also give rise to surface tension, enabling water striders to skate along the surface of ponds, and trees to draw water to great heights via capillary action. Because of water’s electrical imbalance it dissolves many kinds of substances, allowing it to transport nourishment and waste in our bodies. Water’s high specific heat (another consequence of hydrogen bonding) causes oceans to warm and cool gradually, moderating our planet’s temperature swings. No water, no life.

Hence, water makes memorable metaphors. “Whoever drinks the water that I give will never thirst … Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land … If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, he will certainly not lose his reward … Christ gave himself up for the church to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” Water—unique, vivifying, refreshing, purifying. Come, drink, enjoy!