An element’s love letter

Dear Astatine my love,

I am writing to tell you that I can’t marry you. I’m breaking our engagement. I guess that you want to know why, so let me explain. I’ll start at the beginning.

It all started when I was born the daughter of Actinium-227 by alpha emission. I not only grew up unstable, but my psychiatrist recently diagnosed me as a paranoid schizophrenic and said that she had a problem telling my 20 isotopes apart. The sad truth is that 227/88Fr, my longest lived isotope, has a halflife of about 21 minutes, after which I decay into that awful 223/88Ra! And my 221/87Fr isotope has a halflife of only 4.8 minutes! So you see, there’s no use continuing our relationship when I won’t be around for long.

I was a quiet child. When my existence was finally discovered in 1939 by Marguerite Perey at the Curie Institute in Paris, I was thrilled! They named me Francium after the country in which I was discovered. They introduced me to my sisters Lithium, Sodium, Potassium, Rubidium and Caesium. Soon I learned that, as members of the Alkali Metal family, we had a lot in common. We all had a value of one, we tarnished in air, had low melting points and reacted vigorously with cold water. Not only that, we generally had soft crystals and were commonly found as halides and as aluminosilicates and combined vigorously with other elements.

Father said that the strong similarity between my sisters and me was the arrangements of the electrons in our atoms. Father always had an explanantion for everything. I asked him once why he liked Lithium best. He said that he loved us all equally and that I was only being my unstable self. But I kept bugging him, and finally he admitted that he liked Lithium best because she was used in the treatment of steel parts and was making something of her life. He said I had no meaningful purpose that he could see. Then he looked me up and down and grunted that I should do something about my atomic weight. I ran to my room in tears and looked in the mirror. My atomic weight was around 223, more than anyone else in my alkali metal family.

Astatine, I just can’t bear it! You saw how futile my attempts to diet were.

Sitting in the Earth’s crust the way I do in tiny amounts (never more than one gram), I have a lot of time to think. It isn’t so hard having a melting point of 27 degrees celcius, and my changes of phase add some excitement to my life. But something has been bothering me. Even though I was discovered more than 60 years ago, my sisters still leave me out of everything. The Alkali Metal family has always been famous, but nobody knows the real me! Why I remember that in Inorganic Chemistry, R.T. Sanderson said, “relatively little is known of this element except that a close resemblance to Caesium has been recognised.”

Caesium! He compared me with Caesium – my sister who hangs out in a mineral called Pollucite! No one would ever catch a weighable amount of me in that trash! I’m sorry – there I go being unstable again.

Did you hear that people are actually cloning me? It’s true! What they do is bombard Thorium with protons, and they’ve got some instant artificially made Francium! Neat isn’t it? Who knows? Maybe some day, good old atomic number 87 will find her niche in society and I will be accepted for what I am. But until then, I know we could never be right for each other.

Astatine, I’m really sorry. Please try to understand. I will always love you and will never forget our half-lives together.

Love Always,

Francium Alkali

*(From a worksheet in my chemistry file. I bear no responsibility for inaccuracy of information, incorrectness of grammar or any other flaw. Thank you.)

Oh, the wonderful teachers who do anything and everything to promote learning as it should be to us bratty little ingrates. I once had a teacher who rewarded my class with a trip to a Lord of the Rings exhibition. She taught science, but she knew the value of fantasy and imagination. Another chinese teacher of mine encouraged me to read by giving me –giving- me Chinese classics with wonderful illustrations. I still have the books. And another one once said :

“Now that I’m no longer your teacher, I don’t have to act appropriately in front of you! HA!”

To all who still see your teachers daily, do appreciate those relentless, determined, big-hearted imparters of knowledge and creativity, and remember them, whenever you can, in your prayers and thanksgiving.

 While I studied overseas for two years I requested from my ‘would-be’ teachers the materials my would-be classmates recieved, so that I might not suffer from gaps in different curriculums when I returned. My chemistry worksheets came to me in a ring-file, slotted into plastic folders according to date and topic, clipped very nicely together and labelled “for (my name)”. I supposed I was touched by the gesture but, I wasn’t one to dwell in this sort of thing then. I sort of took my good teachers for granted until I schooled at a place where dedicated teachers were the exception… I seem to be stockpiling fragments of memory alot these days, sitting around on the earth, like useless Francium like I do now, currently, approximately all the time – albeit in increasing amounts. 

Wherever these teachers are, I hope they remember all they have done for the students. I hope they know, somehow, that even those who no longer keep in contact do appreciate their efforts in years to come. I hope they never stop trying to do their best for their students. I hope…I suppose I ought to visit them and thank them. I don’t know why I dislike that idea. I only know that recalling the past is painful. To enter a world so vivid that you long endlessly after it, knowing it is forever in the past, is to lose the present moment. Yet one cannot relive the past if the past has not, in its own present, been fully lived.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby


Boat on a river 



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