31 July, 2014

(this memory) 110

This is the story behind last Monday's (this moment).

It's July 2005, and we're just below the Inaccessible Pinnacle on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, peering over the edge of Sgùrr Dearg.

I was originally told that this was a Brocken spectre, but have since learned that the term really refers specifically to the optical illusion of a greatly magnified shadow, when the observer is looking down on clouds with the sun shining from behind. Technically, my shadow is not impressively magnified here.

The confusion was probably due to the fact that Brocken spectre are often associated with glory, an optical phenomenon that causes a circular, halo-like rainbow to appear around the observer's head. This is apparently due to classical wave tunneling, "when light nearby the droplet tunnels through air inside the droplet and...is emitted backwards due to resonance effects." Thanks for nothing, Wikipedia...I did get an A in physics, you know.

At the end of my second year of med school, I was obligated to partake in the ritual torture of taking the first Step in the U.S. medical licensing exams. It was sadly kind of awesome. There was something unexpectedly freeing about having only a single obligation - to study for and pass the test - for five weeks. I spent them at my parents' house, sleeping until noon or later, and studying until 2 AM (my biological clock's preferred schedule), enjoying my father's wine collection and my mom's fantastic cooking. I didn't even do my own laundry.

About a week before the exam, my father and sister headed to Europe to...unclear. Visit Hard Rock Cafés and the Freud museum, I think. After the exam, my mom and I flew out to meet them in Dublin and make our way through the land of my (eight-plus generations removed) ancestors, Wales and Scotland. I originally wanted to hike a large part of the trip, along the West Highland Way, but since that was clearly not suited to anyone else's traveling style, we compromised on a trip to Skye where I could rock climb in the Black Cuillin...now possibly my favorite place on earth.

This hike was particularly breathtaking. It was also brutal and exhausting at times, but I came down feeling purified in a way that has only happened a few times before. Like doing Bikram yoga in the sky.

Random side note #1: I deeply wanted to name my son Skye, in honor of the wonderful time I spent with my family there, but I worried that it had been co-opted by female soap opera characters. I'm still a bit sorry I didn't include it as a third middle name (that seemed excessive), but maybe I'll give it to my next child, boy or girl. Before I settled on his name - I'll get to that in another post - I searched for pretty much any word association that could work. Since "Dearg" (the name of the peak I climbed) wasn't appealing, I considered Alasdair (Sgùrr Alasdair is the highest peak in the Black Cuillin), but Alasdair sounds decidedly pretentious for an American child, and it's just named after the first guy who climbed it anyway.

Random side note #2: I am good at taking tests. For better and for worse, at times, it has always been that way, since kindergarten. But after I took the MCAT, the admissions test required for applying to medical school, I was petrified to view my score report online. A day or two later, I was taking a nap (college = sleeping a lot) when my father came into my bedroom and asked, "So what's the lowest score you could possibly get and still try to apply to med school?"

"What?" I mumbled from underneath the blankets. "Who cares? Why? I don't know. Go away."

"Would a __ be good enough?" he persisted.

"Um, yes," I said through sleepily gritted teeth. "Duh. That would be, um, like, stratospheric." (I hope I didn't talk like this...but I probably did.) "Now, go away."

"Well, that's what you got," he said, dropping a slip of paper on my pillow.

Turns out I left my codes for accessing the scores next to computer (ah, the days before every member of my family - even the dog and the toddler - had their own iPhone, iPad, and MacBook open 24/7), and my dad had decided it was a subconscious message that I wanted someone else to peek for me.

I taped that slip of paper into my college scrapbook...not because of the score, but because it reminded me of my dad's sweet confidence in us.