Monday, August 12, 2013

Mr. Wright, Physics, And Why We Exist

Jeffery Wright has figured it all out.

And in doing so, Mr. Wright has formed a life that looks to me just like real, genuine, Christ-like love.  This life is acted out daily, both at home, and at work.  I want to be like Mr. Wright when I grow up.

Jeffery Wright is well known around Louisville Male high school in Louisville, Kentucky, for his antics as a physics teacher, which include exploding pumpkins, hallway hovercraft, massive fireballs exploding from his hands, and a scary experiment that involves a bed of nails, a cinder block and a sledgehammer.

But it is a simple annual lecture — one without props or fireballs — that leaves the greatest impression on his students each year. The talk is about Mr. Wright’s son and the meaning of life, love and family.

Each year, Mr. Wright gives a lecture on his experiences as a parent of a child with special needs. His son, Adam, now 12, has a rare disorder called Joubert syndrome, in which the part of the brain related to balance and movement fails to develop properly. Visually impaired and unable to control his movements, Adam breathes rapidly, doesn’t speak, and is wheelchair bound. 

Mr. Wright said he decided to share his son’s story when his physics lessons led students to start asking him “the big questions.”  Those questions we all end up asking about life, meaning, and real purpose.  Mr. Wright, a Catholic, says:  “When you start talking about physics, you start to wonder, ‘What is the purpose of it all?  Kids started coming to me and asking me those ultimate questions. I wanted them to look at their life in a little different way — as opposed to just through the laws of physics — and give themselves more purpose in life.”

Mr. Wright starts his lecture by talking about the hopes and dreams he had for Adam and his daughter, Abbie, now 15. He recalls the day Adam was born, and the sadness he felt when he learned of his condition.  “All those dreams about ever watching my son knock a home run over the fence went away,” he tells the class. “The whole thing about where the universe came from? I didn’t care. … I started asking myself not how, but why, what was the point of it?”

All that changed one day when Mr. Wright saw Abbie, about 4 at the time, playing with dolls on the floor next to Adam. At that moment he realized that his son could see and play — that the little boy had an inner life. He and his wife, Nancy, began teaching Adam simple sign language. One day, his son signed “I love you.”

In the lecture, Mr. Wright signs it for the class: “Daddy, I love you.” “There is nothing more incredible than the day you see this,” he says, and continues:

“There is something a lot greater than energy. There’s something a lot greater than entropy. What’s the greatest thing?”  At first, there is silence in the classroom.  Then....

“Love,” his students whisper.

“That’s what makes the ‘why’ we exist,” Mr. Wright tells the spellbound students. “In this great big universe, we have all those stars. Who cares? Well, somebody cares. Somebody cares about you a lot! As long as we care about each other, that’s where we go from here.”

As the students file out of class, some wipe away tears and hug their teacher.  Mr. Wright says it can be emotionally draining to share his story with his class. But that is part of his role as a physics teacher.

“When you look at physics, it’s all about laws and how the world works,” he told me. “But if you don’t tie those laws into a much bigger purpose, the purpose in your heart, then they are going to sit there and ask the question ‘Who cares?’

“Kids are very spiritual — they want a bigger purpose. I think that’s where this story gives them something to think about.”

For Jeffery Wright to love his students enough to share the most intimate and painful moments of his journey with Adam, and to help illuminate the purpose of life to his students; this is what love looks like.  And to head home each night to the challenges of caring for all the needs of a very special child.  Every night.  That is what love looks like.  Really.

The challenge for us together at Hollywood Pres is to lead lives that consistently, daily, faithfully proclaim the ultimate love that Mr. Wright is conveying to his students.  The love of Christ for a needy world. 

We are in this challenge together, friends.  God is our guide.

Below is an award winning short film on Jeffery Wright, produced by one of his former students.

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