I collect a lot of weird stuff, but even I have to admit that the spinthariscope might be one of the strangest. It’s brilliant in its simplicity. A tiny piece of radioactive thorium sits inside of a chamber. When an atom of thorium radioactively decays it shoots out an alpha particle which hits a zinc sulfide screen. This causes the screen to fluoresce for a split second. The flash is brief, but bright enough for the human eye to see as long as you are in the right conditions. You see, in order to watch this incredible light show you must be in a pitch black room for about 15 minutes in order to let your eyes adjust. But believe me, it is definitely worth the wait. There are thousands of thorium atoms decaying at any moment, leading to an incredible fireworks show. Besides the amazing fact that you are literally watching the results of individual atoms decay, it’s also quite beautiful. And don’t worry, modern spinthariscopes have been specially designed to be safe.
As we enter the Christmas season it’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of materialism and an ever-increasing number of events. It seems like every day and night is filled with a non-stop marathon of activities. It has become increasingly difficult to slow down and enjoy the season. But I believe that it has become increasingly important to do exactly that.
In the case of the spinthariscope, slowing down and enjoying the moment rewards the viewer with a scene of incredible beauty – as though a thousand fireflies were dancing before you. But what exactly should we be watching for in this Christmas season? How about watching for tiny acts of kindness.
Let me give you an example, when I was just a kid I suffered a pretty serious back injury. As part of my recovery I was put on bed rest. I have a seven-year old boy and I can’t imagine trying to keep him still. Anyway, as you can probably imagine this was a really difficult time for me. During one of my hardest times my Uncle Scott showed up with a surprise gift – an awesome remote-controlled car.
I loved that car. It had huge off-road tires and I could drive it over anything that got in its path. Even though I was stuck on the couch the car could go all over the living room, dining room and kitchen. If I was lucky I could even drive it into one of the bedrooms at the end of the hall, but since I couldn’t see into the rooms it was tricky to navigate it back. Everyone wanted to play with the car and I it helped drag me away from my feelings of self pity.
A few weeks ago my Uncle Scott came to town and we had the chance to go out to dinner with him. I didn’t bring up the RC car and I’m sure he wouldn’t remember it if I did. It was just a tiny act for him, but it was an amazing act of service for me and I will always be grateful for it.
Our lives are filled with these tiny acts of kindness, sometimes performed by us and oftentimes performed by others. But as we slow down and allow our eyes to adjust we are better able to observe these acts – and they can fill our lives with wonder.