September 2011

New Gravity

We dream satellite dreams.

Satellites—real ones, like virgin huntress moon—pull: they have gravity. Earth has only one natural satellite, and yet Diana reaches down and yanks on the tides, bends the magnetosphere, topples the waves and generally draws us in. We pull her, but she pulls back.

We wish we could pull back, too. But we don’t have the gravity skill. It skipped a generation somewhere, and we were born without it. The earth slams us into its ripcord race around the solar system and the moon embraces us with change, but our specialty is being overwhelmed by gravity, along for the ride. It works strongest around our eyes, at the edges of our voices, the crook in our wrists.

Ruin has a mass. Suffering weighs on us, cloaks itself such gray gravity that we fall at it like cliff-jumping without the fun.  The Hindu scholars were the first to wonder what made us strike the water, fun or not: They decided earth was a low thing, that gravity was a force natural to the low thingness of earth, like the seasons. Like fire. We get that. We live in a world where gravity is so strong our towers have trouble staying up.

Easy, to know the gravity of whiskey bottles and gas pedals. Apathy is dense—it pulls you right along. Agreement? Seductive. Temptress Greed and Rock Star Rebellion keep the moon company: Drop a stone and it magnet-hits a bad idea. We wake up hitching ourselves to bungee cords for fear of falling into them and each day, inevitably, get tangled.

Hanging there, we dream of being satellites, Lunar-dreams.

I wish I could give the thief this beautiful moon,” said an old Zen master, and we wish it too, even though he was Japanese and lived centuries ago. Do you know how Zen came to Japan? A famous master called Kakua sought Zen out in China and studied it for years. He hopscotched around mountains so people would stop bothering him about loaves and fishes, or whatever people asked of sages in those days. Finally, he returned to Japan and the emperor himself summoned the old master. When Kakua walked into the court, the emperor declared that the master would preach all he had learned of Zen for the benefit of the court and its ruler. Kakua stood without saying a word. Then he reached into his robe, drew out a flute, and played a single note into the silence.  He bowed, and left, and no one ever saw him again.

Centuries later, Zen bloomed brighter in Japan than anywhere else in the world.

What a single note: it fell and the ripples moved the earth. Not for the only time. We remember Confucius, who wandered around a country drawing in disciples with his gravity until the nation was changed by one man’s ideas. Gandhi, too, radiated gravity and pulled the world in.  So did Mandela and Mohammad. Luther nailed theses to a door with the densest nail he could find. One woman refused to give up her seat on a bus. One man dipped pen in ink and wrote his name. A carpenter’s son raised his hands and played a single note with his life.

We can make our own gravity, we can pull others and ourselves away from ruin. There are records of the phenomena. Spirited people who stand like science fiction, pushing buttons that flick gravity around, off—and on. A place to stand, claimed Archimedes, plus a lever, and I can move the world. He nearly had it down to science. We nearly believe it’s true.

Sometimes, people float in planes: they do it to test living without gravity. If we take a jet up high enough into the stratosphere and let it fall fast enough, it loses some gravity somewhere, and everyone inside floats, weightless, unchained (except, maybe, for the pilots). It lasts about a minute, a little less. They turn cartwheels and test science, then fall back down, and we are jealous. For a floating minute they forget the strength of bad choices, the way suffering jerks us back. They dream in levers and notes.

Nature claps its hands, wants to join in on the fun. It devises a way to make its own gravity, too: we’ve seen fast-forward footage of daisies growing in the field. Flowers twist and churn as the days wing past them, sprouting up from seeds buried in the low earth and aiming toward  the higher levels, places where it is not the nature of things to fall. The days fill up mere moments and daisies bloom to face the sun, every time. Uncanny. They must listen to a new gravity, a gravity called light, and it must pull them up. When they should be falling they start to rise. Tell your friends—flowers have found the leverage of Archimedes. We have repeated the experiment; we know it is true. Eureka.

One hermit master bowed before a king and played a single note on a flute. It lasted less than a minute. And the kingdom bowed back.  Hurl a plane fast enough the wrong way, and our old forces forget themselves. Sit in a meadow to wait and the lilies of the field show their gravitas. It is an overcoming thought, a bow-down-to-it thought, reason to seek its temple and enlist to study. A single action spawns such mass! If one flute, one note can change the world, how can we not?

But we are not they, we say. That’s the point. Those masters (so far away, long ago) had the mass to decide what was attractive and what was not. They could make people want—really want—the right things. We don’t have the skill. It skipped a generation. We know what will happen here, on our doorsteps (so far here, the short now). We will tell ourselves we will change, and then tomorrow, weights falling…a heroine-touch against needing skin, a morphine for our cancers, a yes-please. Our bungee cords break: We will steal from our boss. Then lie to our friends. Then pretend. Then we will like it, and while away days with tangled gravity dreams.

Avoid, avoid, we agree. Too weak, too much—just avoid. Someone passed the bottle and decided we cannot make enough gravity ourselves, so we forget. When an Apostle named Paul told us to not be yoked with unbelievers, we missed taking it as a challenge. We forgot to make believers of them all.

Astronomers, yoked to their telescopes but with both believing, say there are such things as neutron stars.   They are collapsed bundles of neutrons skipping around the universe, tiny spots a fraction the size of our cities (the stars, not the astronomers).  But wham: they pack a punch. Their magnetic fields? A duel would rip planets apart. Their internal heat levels? Off the universal charts. And their gravity—their gravity makes a million earths look helpless. It ripples galaxies. They have ultimate mass, it is only by a mad-hatter chance they do not collapse in on themselves. We cannot get close—we’d be crushed to even think of it.

When a curious species looked to see how neutron stars formed,  we found they came from supernovas, especially the bright ones, stars that decided to burn twice as bright for half as long. They flared, one note, then faded. In their wake neutron stars spun, gathering up the cosmos in their dance. They coalesced from the remnants, they were not there before. Scientists took note. Neutron stars seize their charisma. They make it.

Gravity? Made, not born.

One quick aside: (Did you know our moon has mascons, little clumps of aberrant gravity, where the field weakens? Mascons occur where the moon is most scarred, where its greatest craters show themselves, mass torn out. But mascons cannot stop the satellite’s pull, they do not break the force. Past wounds are dismissed, a Lunar shrug. Even with scars Diana wins the hunt—the huntress intended nothing less. She has a lever, and a place to stand. She makes believers of us all.)

So let’s dream satellite dreams. Each of us has a lever, a place to stand. Why not find a way? We just face the sun. We take our scars and make gravity of them. We stand in supermarkets, in old offices, in courts, and play a single note. Enough for a little new gravity. Enough to draw in friends, family, unwary bystanders, to nudge them all the right way.

When ready we lift our flutes, breathe deep. Feel air shift, just a bit.