Earlier this week, Ferris wheel fans celebrated the 128th anniversary of the opening of the world’s first Ferris wheel at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Created by its namesake, George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., an American civil engineer, the wheel was Ferris’s answer to a challenge put forth to American engineers to come up with something that would surpass the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower, which had been unveiled several years earlier at the Paris International Exposition of 1889. The Chicago World’s Fair planners wanted something “original, daring, and unique.” Ferris was obsessed with the challenge and devised a contraption that in his words “out-Eiffeled Eiffel.” According to the New York Times, though organizers feared the wheel wasn’t safe for World’s Fair attendees, “nobody was afraid to get on board” despite the fact that some riders “experienced a disagreeable sensation in the motion of the wheel.” Since that time, other engineers have built on Ferris’s concept to create their own versions of the wheel, including the famous double-decker version.
I’ve always been a fan of Ferris wheels, even though I can’t tell you the last time I rode one. I do remember, however, the vantage point it gave you when you were at the wheel’s apex, though I also recall never liking when the wheel’s operators stopped the ride momentarily to let other riders on board at the bottom. Being stuck up high never had much appeal to me.
The philosopher in me sees the Ferris wheel as a paradigm of life’s circular rhythm. For those who pay attention, patterns emerge over time, which allow us to understand, prepare for, and potentially avoid adverse situations. The classical example is our treatment of others. Treat people badly and there’s a more than average chance that bad will come back to you. But on the other hand, treat others fairly, generously, and compassionately, and there’s a good chance that fairness, generosity, and compassion will be your reward. The Bible speaks of this principle as the “law of reciprocity,” or “reaping what you sow” (Galatians 6:7).
Most of the time, we only recognize that spiritual principle when we’re on the receiving end of it, particularly the undesirable end. Something unpleasant happens and we reflect on its cause, especially what we may have done to provoke it. But what if we were instead to give thought to what we might be about that would result in good and favorable consequences? How much more purpose would our lives hold if we took more seriously the implications of “what goes around comes around?” What if our witness was more proactive? Perhaps then our faith would be more “original, daring, and unique.”
Ferris made it possible for us to hitch a ride to a height that would enable us to see our surroundings more clearly. But in the end, we must come down to earth and learn how to live there. Meanwhile, faith makes it possible for us to get to such a high place and stay there, one that fills our souls with awe and wonder, and compels us to treat others in a way that invites them to know the same. Now, I don’t know of many who wouldn’t be willing to get on board with a life like that.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).