Recently I was getting my hair done out of town. When I told the hair dresser that I was from Los Alamos, he said he didn’t know too much about us except that we make nuclear weapons and that our children kill themselves.
For a moment my vision of who we are was erased. Soccer games on Saturdays and Boy Scout food drives and Home Coming Parade perfection disappeared from my few and I was left with a stone cold confirmation that there was some kind of truth in what he saw, an idea I have never permitted to enter me.
Einstein, whose words, in this town anyway, carry at least as much weight as God Himself has said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” There are gifted, curious, engaged children here in Los Alamos who will never climb a tree and they are losing faith in themselves and hope in their future every day. To them I say, hang in there, genius. You will be so surprised to see how you are received in the broader world. You may feel that you are a foreigner stranded on an island of strangers here in our special town, but it is such a small, small island. There is so much to see and do and try beyond here.
For those of you who enjoy a bit of the spot light here in Los Alamos, I offer a word of caution. You are likely on your way to bigger ponds, with bigger fish. You may find yourself at some point, in the shadow of the wings. And what will you find there? You will find friendship and family there if you choose. You will find valuable contributions to your field, community and country can be made there. When you are disbelieving, please remember that the spot light was only bright in part due to the light shining on you. It was also lit from within you. You don’t need it to shine.
There are so many opportunities to develop your strengths and gifts now and in the years to come. Whether in the spotlight or not, you will find that the contributions you are able to make with your unique set of talents will bring you much satisfaction as you humbly strive to use them to improve your world. As it turns out the prize is neither fame nor money, but satisfaction.
I recently became aware of a young man who thought his only options were Ivy League greatness or fast food service. How did that become the vision? “Do you want to work a McDonald’s for the rest of your life?” Surely this isn’t so unheard of among things desperate parents say and yet it is a good reminder that our children are listening. If they shoot for the stars and miss, it isn’t the gutter they find, but the moon. And it is sure one heck of a spotlight, so maybe we can relax a little bit.
The truth is that we aren’t either suicide and nuclear weapons or sweet small town America. No stereotype does us justice. We are a creative, diverse population from all over the world who love our families, our work and our community and we can be whatever we choose.