Me and Gravity

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One dewy morning, while waiting for the bus, I began to resent gravity. The thought arrived courtesy of a spider, swinging between two hedges. As I watched the spider twirl with abandon, each silky sway grew into an affront, an act of defiance against established norms.

Why must gravity dole out such unfair treatment, I wondered? Why must I be bound flat to Earth’s crust while tiny architects lasso the wind? Why can’t I, too, partake in upper atmospheric adventures before settling down on some newer, more exotic topiary?

At this, jealousy flared up within me. For the first time I yearned to live more diminutively, to reside in microrealms where drag and fluid forces usurp gravity’s rule, where denizens of sufficiently soupy atmospheres are free to plummet at velocities terminal neither in definition nor consequence. Arachnid pendulums, dust mites, and all others gifted in surface-area-to-volume ratios—I craved to join them and fall without fear, to fall and float and rise again.

I knew I was being unreasonable. I knew that as massy beings, we humans and goats and apples unstemmed can be an unruly bunch, perpetually tempted by inertia, momentum, and other unsavory properties, and that if gravity were to relax for one moment, one moment, we would flee from the world and head straight for the void, first laughing, then gasping. But understanding doesn’t always translate into acceptance.

One clear night while flying home from a funeral, I reflected on my relationship with gravity. Perhaps it is so clingy because it is awkward around family, like I am. If quantum get-togethers between the fundamental forces are anything like my clan reunions, then what gravity endures must be intolerable. Jammed into subatomic quarters, strong nuclear dominates, blathering on about marriages and unions, obsessed with pressuring particles together despite their wishes to fly apart. Electromagnetism (who prefers to be called EM), bright but shallow, is concerned only with laws of attraction and repulsion. Weak nuclear, forever beta, overcompensates with hobbies, such as cooking up quark flavors and building heavy nuclei. As a fellow misfit and free spirit, I could see why gravity would want little to do with these dense provincial personalities, why it resists attempts at grand unification. I understood why it would flee at first chance, out toward the macroscopic, choosing parsecs over Planck lengths, focusing its energies on bolting people to planets, learning to warp but not tear the delicate fabrics of space-time.

But roots are roots. Just as I cannot resist my family’s calls in times of need, gravity cannot escape its bonds of kinship. It relies on them for support, as I do. After shattering stellar losses, strong nuclear is on scene at an eon or two’s notice, fusing dust and debris back into a neat starry core. EM arrives to do what it does best, dazzling and distracting gravity through their mutual affinity for the infinite. Even weak nuclear contributes, hoarding neutrons for the eventual jubilee to confetti the heavens with exotic gifts, benefactions that will come to comprise the ripe fruits, bleating creatures, and grieving humans gravity loves to shepherd. Star-making, I realized, is a family enterprise.

Back on the ground, I made my amends with gravity, knowing that I had been taking it for granted. No more. Suspended jellyfish, pollen specks, and unsettled floc may float forever free, but they will never have what I possess, that enduring pull reserved only for substantial beings. Pleasures the spider may get from its flings and free falls, but it will not know what it feels like to be grounded, to taste the savor of the return home with each step, back on the reliable earth.

Isaac Yuen is the creator of Ekostories, an online collection of essays about nature, culture, and identity. He lives in Vancouver, Canada.

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