THE BEAM OF DEATH
It was typical of the male children in my 6th grade class to engage in a certain amount of pre-adolescent machismo– let’s call it showmanship– in order to claim success on the school playground. To that end, many boys spent their recesses on the swingsets on the far side of the yard; but their their masculine ideals prevented them from simply enjoying the dull, pendulous motion that these swings were designed for. These boys were aiming for something much higher, training their laser-focused determination onto pushing the very limits of human achievement.
The bravest few would march stern-faced and resolute to the swings; they would mount the black plastic belts and force them, high, high into the air, higher than God ever intended. They would push and yank the rusty chains with all the strength their prepubescent arms could muster, determined to pierce the dark skies with their 11 year-old bodies, to ascend high into the heavens, into unknown realms of beauty and danger. Then, at the peak of their trajectories, they would heroically bail out of their vessels, and sail– seemingly in slow-motion– onto the treacherous piles of pea gravel below, screaming and contorting their faces, like war pilots diving out of burning planes into the dark jungles of ‘Nam.
This was a popular pursuit among many of us. At least it was until a 10 year old named Brian Dalrymple took some of us aside one day to inform us that at some point in the unspecified past, this one kid, through some rare miracle of persistence and aerodynamics, got the swing to go so high that it achieved what we all thought was impossible– it revolved around the very support beam that held it in place. As I scanned the wide-eyed faces in the crowd, I knew instantly what every soul there was thinking: “…the Holy Grail!”
But, Brian continued, while the kid was granted through some divine force the will, ability, and luck to reach the apex of the swingset– a feat never before accomplished by a mere mortal– he was also cruelly, and at the critical moment, deprived of the earthly momentum necessary to get *all the way* over… So when he approached the 12 o’clock position, the twisted hand of gravity emerged from the shadows and snatched the trophy from his clutches, and the kid fell limply onto the steel support beam, breaking every bone in his body. He even had to get a new face installed, Brian whispered.
The crowd grew silent, and after a moment, we all retreated from the conversation, rattled. We each frittered away the remainder of recess in solitude, soberly contemplating how close to death’s threshold many of us had so foolishly danced over the past year.
In the days that followed, we still sat on the swings, but our screams grew lackluster and our hearts weighed with concern. Soon enough, the old cadre of parachuting flyboys slowly drifted away to other pursuits like chasing girls around the hopscotch courts, and the swings sat dormant and rusting until another schoolyear drew to a close.