What If…?

I wanted to be a cosmologist when I grew up.

In third grade, I wrote an essay about it for class. I went through my whole childhood assuming that would be the path I followed, right up until I started high school and discovered theater. I don’t regret turning away from cosmology to follow the theater path, just as I don’t regret leaving theater to become a librarian, but some days I find myself melancholy over the loss of what could have been.

I’m still as fascinated by the universe as I ever was, that part of me didn’t disappear when I changed paths. I still love to ponder the big cosmological questions, to try to unravel the mysteries of time and space and the nature of existence.

Every now and then, I get an idea that sings in my head—I’m certain there’s something to it, a possible answer. But I don’t have the training or the tools to explore my ideas properly, to test their merits, to trace their implications. I can’t do the work that’s required. I have ideas but I don’t have the math.

Perhaps it’s presumptuous of me to think I have any ideas that haven’t already been thought of, considered, and most likely discarded by people who do have the expertise and training and who do the work for a living.

Years ago, I wrote a fan letter to Dr. Martin Rees—I had just read his latest popular science book and some of the theories he discussed in it reminded me of ideas I’d been mulling over the years. I told him so and shared some of my other amateur theories with him. He responded to my letter and stated that some of the ideas I had shared were already in serious discussion amongst professional cosmologists.

So I know I’m capable of having ideas on the subject that are substantive and worthy. My brain is capable of thinking about these issues in a productive way. I was also very good at math in school (especially as it becomes more theoretical and less applied) and would have remained so, had I continued studying it. I’m confident I would have made a competent cosmologist if I had taken that route.

But I didn’t.

I still have ideas that I know are good and interesting and worthy of exploration. But I can’t do anything with them now. These are the days I’m most aware of what I gave up to follow a different path.

I don’t regret it. I love the life I’ve made for myself. The work I’m doing now is important and rewarding and I’m very good at it. I also grew up wanting to live in a library someday, so I managed to achieve at least one of my childhood dreams.

But some days I find myself wondering, “What if…?”

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