Once a Nerd
You never know to what your skills will be applied, do you? I was recently teaching a workshop I helped edit, on physics of all things. This program was for kids. I tried to make it as interactive as possible - taking time to ensure everyone had a voice and felt heard. So, I asked what kinds of people are good at physics.
“Nerds.” Laughter. Dead stop. Pause.
Choosing to be affirming, I pulled out the old yes and saying, “You’re right. Nerds. It's a fair description. So is passionate. So is driven. And here’s the thing about nerds – very often they end up ruling the world or at the very least their part of it.”
Then I took a little trip back in time.
3rd grade. Feeling a little friendless. Getting a bit older. Maturing into self-awareness. It was clear I was following a path different than the friends that had carried me as far as Mrs. Jung’s class. It was time to make a new friend. One kid seemed strong. Centered. On the quiet side. A little intimidating, which surprised me because that was a new feeling.
It was time for multiplication table drills. Each kid played. Your turn lasted until you botched an answer. We’d go around the room asking whatever question we wanted provided the 2 numbers in the problem were under 100 or something. I forget the exact rules. I only remember the results. No one could stump this quiet, centered boy.
Kurt Weinberg was the smartest kid in the room that day; perhaps each day.
I made a point of walking home with him, which was a very short walk because he lived directly across the street. By the end of it, I knew we were going to be friends.
Kurt got me through the roughest parts of adolescence. Always there. Always steady. Never questioning the things that made me different. Letting me be me. Letting us be us. Two smart boys born two days apart.
Never once did Kurt make me feel anything but good about myself. Years later when we finally had the coming out conversation all he wanted to know was why I hadn’t told him sooner, making it clear he would’ve stood by me.
Our Facebook era friendship endures. I see Kurt in pictures and immediately can tell he’s happy which he deserves. He has earned his happiness ten times over.
Not every nerdy 3rd grader is lucky enough to find a life-long friend during a math drill. If you know a kid like that, help them find their Kurt. Sign them up for an improv class. Very often that’s where the nerds can be found. Kids who enjoy exploring ideas. Kids who delight in the strengths of others. Kids who wouldn’t dream of diminishing someone else for being different. Kids who know that quirks and quarks should be celebrated. Kids who might just end up ruling the world.
If you’re not into the whole improv thing, that’s okay too. I know a terrific physics workshop.