The sidewalk in front of our school is a long, tempting hill down which the children regularly run after they have left with their parents. I can't see them do this because of the 7-foot high fence that surrounds our courtyard, but I hear them declaring their intent to run down it. I hear their mothers warn them to be careful. And, not always, but regularly, I hear the sickening sound of their bodies succumbing to gravity when they stumble and fall headlong onto the concrete.
Watching as children make pendulum paintings is like reading Moby Dick. We are, of course, playing with the great forces of nature, in this case gravity, one that will always, inevitably win out over all our efforts to control it.
Our cups of paint swing with a universal predictability, with an original trajectory of our own devices, but with a destiny predetermined by the laws of physics.
When we just stand back and observe, indescribable beauty is revealed to us.
But it's hard for us to just stand back. We want to put our hands on and see if we can control these mighty forces, just as we want to challenge ourselves by running down the hill in front of the school.
I see that the paint is flowing in a stream from the bottom of the cup, pooling
where it lands.
The grown-up is urging me to let it go, so I finally do, and see that it swings,
making a straight line.
And this is what happens when I give it a push in another direction.
It's an experiment, of course, but it's also hard to not see it as a kind of battle between the forces of nature and man's eternal struggle to control them. Or maybe it's just a struggle to come to grips with them.
As we played with our painting pendulums, an inevitable geologic process was coming to a head under Tokyo, one that would soon devastate an unsuspecting nation. Millions of people were to be horribly reminded of the supreme power of nature; how thin that veneer of control really is.
How brave we must be, really, to go about our lives knowing that the flip side of that indescribable beauty is indescribable tragedy.
I suppose it's normal to want to protect our children from this, at least until they are older and somehow more sophisticated, but at the same time I suspect they know it already, perhaps not intellectually, but at a deeper level, because they've tried the experiment of running down the hill in front of the school.
And once the pain has subsided, they'll want to try it again. That's because of the beauty part.