Every Sunday mornings when the 8 a.m. sunlight fills our living room, I sit right beside this eight year-old kid and watch him write down notes on a spring-bind notebook from a Chemistry and Physics book. He goes on to writing and writing and writing more, not bothering if he has taken breakfast yet but I can see in his face the effort to understand every detail of the complex world of science. He is a curious kid, asking out things, this and that and I remember him ask me why that everytime he lets go of a plastic bag in a moving jeepney, the plastic bag drops down on the top of his feet when he expect it to hold itself in place, hang in mid-air and be left behind by the accelerating jeepney for the reason that it has no contact with the moving jeepney while it is suspended in the air. I have always admired his curiosity as a child but as always, he writes and writes everything that he can find in the Chemistry and Physics book.
I hovered over the book he is referring to and saw the delicate illustrations and the words and explanations were carefully laid out in layman’s terms. However, I noticed something strange upon how the boy writes his notes on his notebook and saw the exact same words on the book—he is copying all the contents of the book.
Even though I never got the chance to ask him then, if I was to go back in time and ask him, “Why do you do this? What are you exactly trying to achieve? Do you understand all that is written in this page?” But even though I had the chance to ask these questions, I know what he will reply to me, “I do not know,” and probably smirk, trying to make out the purpose of his act. If he would ask me his same question about the plastic bag, perhaps he might get the same answer from me.
This is not an exercise to futility because he loves copying the whole thing. Time after time, he will shake his elbows off the tiredness but he will still continue as I sit there and witness his progress from the most basic concepts of the elements and compounds to the Browning reaction and from gravity and inertia to the centripetal force. I am sure he did not understand all of these things because this is way too advanced for a third grade student. His attempt to make things out of things he cannot fully comprehend rested on his hand’s capabilities to endure what his mind cannot reflect on. This is the kid I know that goes out the same day later on to play and run along to the speed of tricycles in the street, deliberately racing against the machine on an upward slope and makes it halfway until his body gives up and starts to decelerate and let the tricycle maintain its speed and get away leaving him with his hands on his knees, sweat dripping from his forehead and heavily breathing, gathering oxygen to explode in a laughter of having another chance to test his limits against steel and gasoline. When he has recovered, he will run back down with greater speed to wait for another tricycle to race with.
In himself, I know time has frozen and bound him to this kind of attitude over time, people would not often understand why he do such things when he can simply say, “I do not know but I am happy with it.” Though he may have a lot of questions, the lack of answers is not a problem because he believes such things will be resolved in time. The kid will grow up but he will still remain to be a kid that will race against the things he will see that will determine his new limit. He always wants to know how fast he can get, how far he can go and how successful can his own actions be considering that his way is way too far for others to comprehend. This child is making himself out of his own doing. The fact that not everyone can see the meaning behind the things he do and neither do I upon seeing him rewrite a book he does not understand but he still do it anyway, is not futile because I see in him the type discovery that he establishes around him to understand what he knows he cannot.
Only then, I realized his question about the plastic bag in a moving jeepney that the answer lies in Physics—the very book that he has been reading and copying. Newton’s first law of motion states that “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” Objects tend to “keep on doing what they’re doing.” It is called inertia, the same force that makes you lean forward when the driver of the car comes to a sudden stop. Since the car was in motion, your body is at rest but moves along with it and since the car suddenly stops, your body will keep on moving with the same speed, thus making your body lean forward.
The same thing happens to the plastic bag inside the moving jeepney. It cannot remain suspended in the air once you let it go and be left behind because of the fact that you are part of the moving jeepney and carrying the inertia causing the force to spread from your body to the plastic bag and are both affected by the same speed imposed by the jeepney’s acceleration. The moment you let go of the plastic bag in mid-air, it will still move at the same rate of speed while in mid-air but because of gravity, it will shortly land directly on your feet.
This is the information that I would gladly and almost enthusiastically share with that kid that I met ten years ago. This is the answer that I can give to him instead of shrugging and dropping the question. We could talk about it and make experiments with it carrying our own plastic bags and ride on the jeepneys not caring about where it would take us but only for the reason of finding out if the answer is true. I can imagine the smile on his face as we try to uncover the questions we do not have ready answers for. We both share the same satisfaction and ecstasy in discovery. The pleasure of insatiable curiosity in seeking out the questions that would test our limits and race against the machine is intensified by the both of us. We may not know why we are doing the things we are doing but we are happy about it.
The boy is the inertia. I am the car in motion. The memory is the unbalanced force of a sudden stop that compels me to see the boy that I once was, taking the past to surpass the present causing it to stop, reconfigure the time and redefine the notion that to look forward is as ironic as looking at the reflection in the mirror.