The Pendulum: a Parable

An anxious man was escorted into a vast gallery surging with other anxious people who were moving about beneath a colossal metal fixture that was swinging just above their heads. This enormous metal beam, which had a perpendicular segment at its base (making it resemble an upside down ‘T’), was hurtling at a considerable velocity toward the eastern wall of the enormous hall.

Everyone present had his or her attention riveted to the swinging beam. Half of them were chasing after it in terror, shouting: It is heading for the east wall. We must try and stop it with all our might before it slams into the wall and all is lost! The other half of them were running as fast as they could near the base and hopping onto it like persons trying to jump onto a moving railroad car, shouting—This is the train that leads into the future! Hurry and grab a seat or you’ll be left behind with those fools down there who are trying to stop it! Many curses and insults were hurled back and forth between the two opposed parties.

Then, the newcomer witnessed an even stranger event. The swinging beam was getting closer and closer to the east wall. Just as it came within a few feet of colliding, it suddenly reversed its direction, dashing all of those who’d been riding it into the wall. He also noticed that those who’d been chasing after it below also slammed into the wall. There were no casualties, but every one of the ‘riders’ and every one of the ‘stoppers’ was momentarily stunned by the mass collision. Now, all of them were lying near the wall, unconscious.

After a short time had passed, a few of them began to stir to consciousness—then, more and more of them. One of them, who’d been a ‘rider’ just prior, shouted—Look at that beam! It’s headed west. That’s the way of the future! Hurry up, find a way to hop on there or we’ll lose our grand opportunity! Many followed him. Then, another man, who’d been an enthusiastic ‘stopper’ just before the collision shouted—Pay no attention to that man! I have a powerful gut feeling that he’s talking dangerous nonsense! Follow me and let us chase that beam and try to stop it before it’s too late for all of us! The rest of them obediently followed him.

Then—having beheld this strange spectacle—the newcomer looked up at the huge beam, following the shaft with his eyes all the way up to its upper end, where he could see that it was suspended from a high rafter. It’s a pendulum!—he thought to himself. It’s a pendulum—and they don’t realize it! For a moment he felt the profoundest sense of relief, mingled with delight over the foolishness of this strange, pointless, circular ritual being enacted before him. Then, it dawned on him that he was utterly alone with his knowledge. A barely perceptible tremor of fear rippled through his heart, troubling his mind and re-awakening the mysterious anxiety he had felt earlier. A wild man with a crazed expression on his face ran up to him and screamed at the top of his lungs—What are you standing here for? Are you completely insane? Come at once and lend us a hand! We have to stop that thing! As soon as it collides with the west wall, we’re all done for! Hurry up, man! What…are you out of your mind?

For just a fleeting moment, the newcomer hesitated and refused to budge from his position in the center of the room, where he’d entered. Suddenly, however, the anxiety from before returned in full force. As if from outside his body, he watched himself chasing after the beam, riddled with fear, and shouting—We’ve got to stop it! Oh, if there’s a God in heaven—please help us stop it! And each syllable burst from his heart with the blind force of utter conviction.

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