Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pendulum swings . . . a nerdy post

I am fascinated by pendulums, particularly the Foucault pendulums that can be seen in the towering halls of museums and chambers throughout the world.  (I tried to make one for a science project last century). A cable is suspended from a fixed point several stories above with a heavy weighted metal bob attached to the end close to the floor.  If undisturbed the bob hangs perfectly still above its perfect point of equilibrium, that place where the natural force of gravity holds it in place.  But it seems impossible to let the pendulum rest in its perfect place. It is just hanging there, doing nothing. Who wants to watch that?  Inevitably the bob is displaced several yards or meters,  pulled back like a swing at the park to get going, and then released.  This is what folks like me, hanging over the second floor railing, want to see. The pendulum slowly swings, back and forth, back and forth, passing its point of equilibrium in the center at its greatest speed.  It continues to swing, back and forth, constantly pulled by the force of gravity toward its point of equilibrium.  But the momentum of the weighty bob defiantly carries it past that point. It swings to the opposite side until the pull of gravity matches its momentum, where it seems to pause for a moment, then swing back in the direction from which it came, flying past the point of equilibrium and back to where it started, pausing, and starting the whole thing over again.  This goes on for a long, long time, much longer than I have to stand and watch. It is all as a result of that original displacement from the natural point of equilibrium.

There is another twist to a Foucault pendulum.  If the cable is long enough (that's why they are located outside or in multi-story halls), it is possible to observe another movement of the bob. The path of its back and forth course changes slowly.  For example, at some point, if the pendulum continues to swing, its path will become perpendicular to its original path, and then slowly move back to its original path.  The change in the path is due to the rotation of the earth.  Cool, huh?

When watching a pendulum it is easy to believe that the natural state of the structure is the movement of the bob, back and forth, back and forth, and that if it ever stops swinging it must be displaced again, to resume its familiar movement. It is easy to believe that the bob will find equilibrium only if it swings back and forth, from one side to the other, until it finds its proper place.  But the truth is, the back and forth is a result  of a disruption of the natural state of the pendulum, of being at rest in its point of equilibrium. The back and forth is merely visual evidence of the power of gravity and the fixed point, constantly pulling the bob back to its proper place, never letting the bob fully escape its grip.

I like it when the pendulum is displaced and I can watch it swing..

But in this world of humanity the pendulum seems to be swinging from extreme to extreme wildly. As it is moved by this displacement it is then subject to other pulls of this world that change its path.  The point of equilibrium is only a blur as we go screaming by at break-neck speed.  We pull against the other, displacing our world from its perfect place, as if we can win the contest with brute force, as if the bob will come to rest not at the point of equilibrium, but at the unlikely point at the extreme to which we, in our own interest, have pulled it.

But we can't.

When we exert power over another in any way, it is only temporary. The pendulum will swing. And, unfortunately, it will not stop at the point of equilibrium. The power of the other will pull it to the other extreme.  And so on and so on.

And the truth is just a passing blur.

Until we stop pulling against each other.

You go first . . .


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Listen for the bird songs. . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

 I stepped outside early this morning for no particular reason other than I could not sleep any longer.  The sun was still tucked under the covers of the eastern horizon.  Even so,  the sky was slowly lightening and the birds were tuning up.  They seem so loud early in the morning while things are still and grey, as if they are out of place, ahead of their time, prophesying that yes, another day will begin soon, no matter how unlikely or undesirable it may seem as we escape from our yesterdays under the warm, dark covers.

In times like these, it is helpful to listen for the songs of the birds.  Sometimes the songs are painfully annoying, sometimes peacefully soothing, sometimes solo, sometimes choral, sometimes melodic, sometimes just plain awful.  Sometimes it seems as if the songster is perched on your shoulder, allowing no escape from its message; other times it is so faint that this most quiet song is the one that finally makes you get up to follow its sound until you can hear it clearly.

Sometimes it seems like the darkness of night will not end.  The light of dawn is reluctant to rise. But even in the darkness, the birds begin to sing. 

Maybe the events of the past few weeks seem too dark for hope to survive.  And there is no doubt there is darkness on display:  violence, injustice, hatred, greed, corruption, prejudice, racism, hypocrisy and, the list cannot be exhaustive, just exhausting. You know the darkness. We all know the darkness. The darkness of the big world around us. Or maybe we are dealing with a more personal darkness.

But while we are yet in darkness, the birds sing.

Listen for their songs. They may seem insignificant.  But the birds still sing in the darkness, promising, prophesying of a new and better day.

It's a beautiful Saturday morning, so get up and get out.

The birds are singing.

Join them.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

For this guy?

In conversations and on social media the rap sheet of Freddie Gray has been posted and touted over and over again as a justification for his mysterious death, however it happened.  He is a repeat drug offender.  He is a thug. So why the big fuss over his death? 

"Look at this list.  It goes on and on. 8 or 10 ten cases.  Since he was 18.  How does one person have time to do this many bad things?  How can one person disobey the law so often?  This isn't a rap sheet.  It's more like a book."

"And you good people of Baltimore, this is the guy that drives you to action?  This is the guy that you are passionate about?  This is the guy that provokes you to confront power in the darkness, to risk your lives because of his death?  This is the guy that makes you come into the streets and turn everything upside down?  This is the reason you burned it all down? "

"For this guy?"

Echoes.  From another discussion that began a long, long time ago. And every day since.

"Look at this list."  He opened the book and gripped the binding so hard the ancient spine began to crack and break, flaking off and floating downward.

"How can one person have broken the laws so often?  Why should you care about what happens to him?  He doesn't seem to care, why should you?"  The book slammed shut, the sound echoing down the endless hall.  "Why should you try?  He will never amount to anything.  He will never change.  Let him die. What difference would that make?"

"You know this could hurt.  Those streets are mean.  Those people can be mean. They kill. You could be killed.  And why? For the likes of him?"

"Are you truly going down there with all the violence and hate?  Are you going to that place knowing you will be surrounded by hopelessness in the darkness?"

"Are you going to risk it all, to give all you have, for the likes of a low-life like him?

His back had been turned as he listened to the angry, tempting words of the handsome speaker.  As he turned his eyes were full of tears.

"Yes, I am."


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bend but don't break . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is a perfect spring morning.  Birds are singing. Honeysuckle and wisteria are creeping.  The sky is cornflower blue,  my favorite color for the sky.  The early morning air was icy, but it is warming up now.  The view out the window behind the sofa is beautiful and daunting as I take stock of yard work that needs to be done. 

I tried to do a little yard work last Saturday, beginning with removing some leaves which had piled up on part of my roof during the winter.  With my trusty leaf rake in hand I climbed the ladder and mounted the roof and quickly got to work.  The leaves were water soaked and heavy, stubbornly clinging together and holding their shingles.  I pounded the tines of the leaf rake into the brown mass, pulling harder and harder on the wooden handle as it strained and bent against the task.

As it turns out the wooden handle was not meant to bend like that.  It suddenly snapped.  The Herculean force I had been exerting on the handle had to go somewhere.  Amazingly it was transferred to my right fist which was still gripping the short piece of the upper handle.

As a result of the laws of physics I slugged myself with a stunning right cross to my jaw which sent me reeling as I stood on the roof.  It was an impressive lick, the kind that makes you check to see if your jaw joints are in place and your teeth are still there.  It was a TKO.  After lying on the roof for a few minutes I slinked down the ladder, went back into the house and decided to put off yard work for awhile.

Looking out the window this morning I am reminded that I need to clear some saplings that have grown up on the hill right behind the house.  There are hardwoods and pines and I need to thin them out.  

There is a difference between the hardwoods and the pines.  Several of the young pine trees are bent over and twisted, some with almost ninety degree bends in the slender trunks.  These bends are permanent.   These trees were very young a year ago, and when the February snows came and stayed, the needles of the pine trees collected the heavy snow.  The trees were helpless to dump the snow themselves, and as the days went on they bowed down under the weight.  By the time that long February ended and all the snows finally melted, the young pines were bent and twisted permanently, unable to straighten up even though the heavy weight of the snow had melted away.  I remember during those days looking out my window to the frigid white hillside and the crystalline needles of the young pines.  I remember thinking that I needed to go out and shake the snow from their branches so they would stand back up, but I never did.  I assumed that when the snow melted they would be okay, that they would straighten up.  They never did.

The hardwood saplings, on the other hand, stand straight.  In the winter they have no leaves to catch the heavy snow, and never have to suffer from the crushing, cold weight.

The next generation of these trees may not look the same.  The seeds of the bent and twisted pine trees will not create bent and twisted trees.  They will spring from the earth pointed straight to the heavens.  There will be nothing within them that causes them to twist or bend except the innate need to survive if the snow comes.  Their fate will depend on the chance of snow, and if anyone will be there to clear the snow if it comes so early in their youth.

The laws of physics are relentless.  Excessive force can have two results.  The object of the force can be damaged, sometimes beyond repair, sometimes beyond recognition.  And sometimes the object of the force will snap, or explode, transferring the energy of the force indiscriminately, with no regard to who or what is damaged nearby.

Either way, I have learned it is wise to heed the warning, the bending that comes with the weight, that comes with the pressure.

Because ignoring that bending in the world around us, or even within ourselves,  can result in some strange and painful things.

It's like slugging yourself in the face.


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