The pendulum

Published 9:11 pm Tuesday, September 28, 2010

There is a little gift store located in Fashion Island, a quintessential California mall located in Newport Beach that I have visited many times.

Although I have never bought anything, it is the same corner of the small store that draws me time after time.

Several pendulums of various sizes are displayed just daring you to swing the bulb at the end of the string.

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Unable to help myself, I usually test each one, mesmerized by the patterns they make in the sand. Before it stops, it has produced a design that is the product of physics and gives scientific evidence to our descriptions of things shifting when we say “the pendulum is changing.”

I must admit that my early fascination with pendulums resulted from the famous short story by Edgar Allen Poe, titled “The Pit and the Pendulum.” A prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition is tied to boards as a scythe-like pendulum swings slowly back and forth dropping ever closer to his heart. Think of it as a violent, high energy video game written more than 170 years ago.

For centuries, scientists had sought to prove that the earth spins on an axis. In 1851, just before the American Civil War, a Frenchman named Leon Foucault gathered French scientists in a hall that contained a precise line from north to south known as the Paris Meridian.

Foucault released a heavy brass pendulum along the line in the floor. To the amazement of everyone but Foucault, the great bob began to sway away from the line. The scientists immediately knew what was happening. The pendulum wasn’t swinging in a different direction; the earth was rotating beneath it.

As I mentioned, I was attracted to pendulums long before I knew the scientific principle behind them. After I learned of Foucault’s work, I was even more attracted. It wasn’t just that nature had provided an explanation for the lines in the sand; nature also had provided an explanation for the way things in our lives seem to go one way and then the other.

Take college football, for instance.

Who would have imagined that two years after the near collapse of the Auburn football program and their hiring of a head coach with a record of five wins and 16 losses the Tigers would be ranked 10th in the country after only four games.

Who would have imagined that two years after the Georgia Bulldogs would be ranked No. 1 in the nation in the preseason polls, only to be off to a 0-3 start in SEC competition?

Granted some teams like Alabama seem to enjoy more success over the years and some, like Vanderbilt or Duke, seem to spend more time on the losing time of the pendulum. If you don’t believe the pendulum does swing the other way, just ask the followers of Notre Dame. I, for one, find this adds to the game when one of the most successful teams of all time, Nebraska, struggled this past weekend to defeat the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State.

The only thing I have observed that swings more that the fortunes of football teams are the politics of our state and nation. For 130 years Democrats enjoyed complete dominance in the state of Georgia. Republicans now seem to enjoy that same control in the state.

Even within the political parties, we have a pendulum that swings between those on the left and the right, the conservatives and the liberals. Many thought that the election of 2008 signaled a long-awaited change for a more progressive role of the government in the people’s lives. In a relatively short time, that pendulum has swung with moderate Republicans losing in the primaries and Democrats moving toward the middle.

The seasons of the year move back and forth, from the starkness and cold of winter, to the green and sweltering heat of the summer. We see the leaves fall only to see the trees bud in the spring.

Our lives move from young to old. We see our children, grandchildren, and if we are lucky, great-grandchildren born even as we age. It is the natural way of things.

Before irrigation, crops would suffer from too little rain or too much, and we would often wonder why it couldn’t just be the happy medium. Now we compete on a global scale, but the pendulum swings continue to affect our lives here in Southwest Georgia. The price of fuel, the dollar and the global economy drives the prices up and down without regard to how well our individual crops might perform at harvest time.

I look at the swinging of the pendulum now and take comfort knowing that when things seem bad, I know that they will return to its usual state soon. I have learned patience, something I didn’t have a great supply of in my early days.

I also know there are things in our lives that will in fact follow the straight line. Family, most friends, and faith are a rock in our lives and keep us grounded when the spinning axis moves us off the straight line.

Take comfort in knowing that things are never as bad as they seem and take heed that they are never as good as they seem. The pendulum swings and life always returns to normal.