One of the rewards of Heaven, we were assured, will be agility.The law of gravity will be suspended as required. Speed limits will be abolished. We will miraculously acquire the manoeuvring skills of a Fangio or Nuvolari. I look forward to that. Air traffic control will be omniscient and infallible. Thank God for that!
Meanwhile in this vale of tears we have to bear our heavy burdens with patience. We look up and envy the birds, masters of their element. Some adventurous people defy gravity on hang-gliders or in balloon baskets, drifting between the clouds, communing with birds and peering down on the patchwork landscape and clusters of settlement, where lesser mortals go heavily about their business. Base jumpers and sky divers exploit gravity for a fleeting God-like moment of weightlessness. To achieve something of this heavenly sensation, we have to queue at security gates, remove shoes and belts, declare all loose change and keys and submit to a full body scan with occasional tickling.
Great minds struggled to explain why what goes up must come down. Newton worked it out to the point that we can now say, “Ah yes,of course. It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Long before Newton, Saint Thomas More and his sensible wife argued the toss. He maintained that if a tunnel were dug to the opposite side of the world, a weight dropped from one end, would stop at the centre of the earth, that being the seat of gravity. She pointed out that velocity would carry the weight a long way beyond the centre before it fell back again and ‘would give a goodlie pat on the pate’ to anyone peering into the tunnel from the other end. Gallileo would have had something to add to the discussion and Newton could have done the maths.
Saturn’s gravity can catch a rocket ship, as a pelota player captures a ball, and sling it beyond beyond the Solar System, beyond the Milky Way, past galaxies and black holes, to the furthest extremities of the expanding universe. I note, by the way, that the scientists at the Cern Large Hadron Collider, are obliged to wear hard hats. This is in case they inadvertently create a black hole. The earth will fall in upon itself, being sucked into a bottomless void of absolute gravity, engulfing perhaps, the Solar System and even the entire universe. A stout pair of boots might be a good idea too.
Reverend Sidney Smith, a noted wit, was asked why his brother, a ponderous and plodding fellow, rose to be a peer of the realm, while he remained a humble parish clergyman.
“Ah,” he explained. “Gravity raised him up, while levity held me down.”
“Felim was silent.
‘Where did she come from?’urged the friar. He wished that he had pen and parchment. There was a story here. ‘Where did she come from?’
‘From beyond the sea,’said Felim after a while. ‘From some heathen country. She followed a young priest coming back from pilgrimage. I don’t know. Art was his name, I believe. She was his hearth-woman, his focaria, as they say. They were lovers.’ He blushed. ‘It’s not a subject for the ears of holy men.’
‘It’s all right,’ Friar John assured him. ‘I understand about the world. This is not unknown in the Church. We are men also, my son.’ He stopped, realising that he had slipped into priestly mode. Felim was ten years or more his senior. ‘Felim’, he corrected. ‘We are men also, Felim.’
He saw Alice kneeling before him, a penitent. She confessed to a terrible sin. On Midsummer Eve she had climbed the cathedral tower. She was only a child. She knew no better. The door should not have been left open, the steps unattended. She carried a cat. She looked down from the top. In the pale glow of the mid-summer sunset, she saw, among the tombstones, the white arse of Canon Bibulous, rising and falling on top of a woman of the town. Canon Godfrey was his proper name. He lodged in the Common Hall, a faithful servant of the cathedral, with an unfortunate weakness for the wine of Gascony. He enjoyed his food. In truth he was both corpulent and bibulous. He walked with some difficulty, but it was said (it was an uncharitable thing to say) that he copulated with the facility of a boar.
She saw the white arse of Canon Bibulous. She heard him grunt. She threw the cat. The creature screeched as it fell. It landed on the couple below. She watched through a slit-window. The woman screamed. The canon clambered to his feet, pulling his drawers about him and lumbering away, crossing himself and uttering pious ejaculations. She lingered over the word.
Friar john had closed his eyes. She was truly contrite. Incongruously, he had asked her about the cat. She shrugged. It was not her cat, the dark , pacing Lucifer, master of the stable yard. It was a difficult one to judge,. It was not included among the categories of venial and mortal. perhaps a reserved sin, one for the bishop himself to adjudicate on. She was young and tearful with remorse. He raised his hand and granted her absolution. She withdrew.
It was a terrible thing to do to a man of the Church. A dreadful thing. He felt a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. It was a story worthy of the telling, but one that must remain locked in the seal of confession.
Canon Bibulous grappling with his lesser linen and retribution falling upon him, spitting and snarling, from Heaven. Friar John chuckled. He began to laugh. Tears came to his eyes. If only he could share the mirth with his brothers. He could see them guffawing around the refectory table, red of face, slapping each other on the back at the discomfiture of the secular churchman and by association, his bishop. One up for the friars. Even the Blackfriars, the Domini Canes, the hounds of God, might crack a bleak smile at that one.”
The Devil to Pay. The Story of Alice and Petronilla Hugh Fitzgerald Ryan. Lilliput Press, 2010 eBook Amazon/Kindle etc.