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Cosmic Debris
Why Gravity?
Courtesy of The Islander News, Key Biscayne's award-winning newspaper

May 1997--I watch my son play and am struck by how light he seems. It's as though gravity has less of a tug on him than it does on the rest of the world. Even on the rare occasions when he falls, his 30-something pound body seems to hit the ground as lightly as a leaf.

    We're at Wainwright Park, located at the beginning of the causeway that has homeless people living in the depths of its dense hammock and the likes of Madonna and Sylvester Stallone on neighboring estates.

    It's a Wednesday afternoon and the park is almost empty. Glen runs between a playground and the sea wall, taking a few trips down the sliding board then throwing stones in Biscayne Bay. Back and forth he goes, sliding and throwing, sliding and throwing.

    Since he's an only child, I try to be his big brother as well as father. I slide down the board and collect rocks for him to toss into the water, trying to keep up as he runs around.

    I remember when I was a kid, how much easier it was to run than walk. Walking was too slow, and there always seemed to be someplace I'd rather be than where I was at the moment. One day, I consciously tried to walk all the way to school, and couldn't. About a 100 yards down the street, I broke into a sprint, feeling free just because I was moving fast. It didn't even matter that running would simply transport me to school sooner than later; I ran simply because it felt so darn good.

    Now, running is a last resort. Even as Glen charges hell-bent toward the sea wall, I'm reluctant to switch gaits. But I do, in part because I fear he'll stumble and fall into the bay, and in part because I fear trying to explain to his mother how he stumbled and fell in the bay.

    Splish-splash. The only things that end up in the bay are rocks, except for a flat one that he flies around, making spaceship noises. The rock does indeed resemble the Millennium Falcon, the fastest hunk of junk in the Star Wars galaxy. Glen flies the spaceship rock round and round, orbiting himself until he gets so dizzy that he staggers. But he doesn't fall because it's impossible to fall in outer space.

    Back at the playground, I take a trip across the monkey bars. Swinging rung-to-rung, the shoulder I separated playing rugby years ago snaps, crackles and pops like a bowl of Rice Krispies. One trip, and I'm already breathing harder; my palms feel ready to blister. I can't believe how heavy I've become.

    Actually, my weight hasn't changed much since college. But back then I could do 20 pull-ups and jump high enough to grab a basketball rim. Now, I don't even try to do pull-ups because its easier and more rewarding to just remember how many I used to be able to do. And basketball rims seem to have grown higher since my college days, something I can only reach with a ladder.

    It strikes me that gravity must accumulate in our bodies over the years, that each little cell absorbs a miniscule amount of the force every moment we're on earth. It pulls us down, down, down, until we're, quite literally, in the ground.

    Women who jokingly explain that sagging parts of their anatomy have
"succombed to gravity," are really quite right. Gravity tugs, tugs, tugs at that once-firm flesh, never giving it a break, until it is broken down.

    I suppose this is all Isaac Newton's fault, for he was the one who discovered gravity. Of course, it was here all along, but no one before him ever understood exactly why things fell. He probably never would have either if he hadn't been conked on the head by an apple. Whereas most people just would have said, "Ouch," and probably eaten the apple, Newton asked "Why?"

    If he'd have asked me, I probably would have replied, "Things fall because they do. It doesn't matter why, you just have to adjust to it."

    But Newton was one of those nerdy science guys who see the world in numbers and equations. They think that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared whereas I think that energy equals the amount of sleep you get divided by the number of children you have. And whereas I can cut a piece of pie in two seconds flat, they can't cut a piece of their pi without going to a zillion decimal places.

    But to each his own. If George Washington had been under that apple tree and had a piece of fruit bop him on the head, he probably would have chopped it down and then made history by being the only politician to twice accept responsibility for his actions. Or, he might have learned from his earlier experience with the cherry tree that it's simply a lot easier to lie.

    If I'd been under that apple tree, I probably wouldn't have asked why things fall, but rather pondered what it would be like if things fell up:

 If things fell up instead of down,
 It would be impossible to drown,
 And just as hard to fill a cup,
 And would you throw down instead of up?
 If things fell up instead of down,
 Jack never would have broken his crown.
 Rain would fall from sea to sky, 
 Would birds walk and elephants fly?
 If things fell up instead of down,
 It would be easier to smile than frown.
 But I don't know if I'd want to live there,
 In a world that looks like Don King's hair.

    Of course, in Newton's time, Don King, like gravity, hadn't been discovered yet (though I do believe that George Foreman was around), so I would have had to figure out another last line to my little ditty. Fortunately, I live in a modern age where it's common knowledge that gravity is a cosmic force that has placed the moon in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars as the dawn of the Age of Aquarius creeps over the horizon to bring peace on earth for all mankind -- and even some womankind.

    Without gravity, we'd be lost in space, like my son Glen as he flies his rock replica of the Millennium Falcon around himself. Soon, he'll start asking me "Why?" Why this and why that and just why, why, why. I look forward to learning a lot, like why the sky is blue, why bad news is inherently more interesting than good news and why real estate is so high in south Florida even though it will all be underwater in a few decades. And with each answer we discover, the gravity of knowledge will accumulate until I learn that I can no longer do even one pull-up, and Glen will learn to worry about pimples and tests and a date for the prom, a college major, a job with health plan, rent, mortgage, a wife, kids, car payments... 

    Uh-oh. It looks as though this column is spinning out of control again. So I'll stop writing and just let it fall where it may, in your hands, or maybe the bottom of the bird cage tray.

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