Ode to Thrust Bearings: getting unstuck

Humans progressed from sticking twigs into holes in the earth and then licking off the ants to inventing thrust bearings, glorified wheels that opened the way for the industrial revolution, advanced agriculture, and travel in outer space. Can we not find the equivalent to change our human interactions and bring harmony to the world?

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The world needs more thrust bearings. Thrust bearings allow things to be mobile and flexible while remaining stable. They allow large heavy things to turn, move, and realign. They allow juxtaposed things to stay in connection with each other while one – or both – is turning, moving, and realigning.

We need more thrust bearings in world politics, we need them for social mobility, we need them to manage the relationship between finances and education, we need them to unstick prejudices, we need them to navigate clashing attitudes on abortion, same-sex marriage, minimum wages, health care, gun control, immigrants, and housing for everyone. We need them in the U.S. Congress. We need them between religions and cultures. We need them wherever there is war, poverty, destruction, or hate.

What is a thrust bearing? It is a human invention, a thingamajig with only one purpose – to allow objects to turn in relationship to each other on a axis. It is, in effect, a flattened ring of multiple ball bearings that fits between a same-size washer on the top and a same-size washer on the bottom.

Yes, there are tools for almost everything – give me a large enough lever and a place to stand and I can make the earth move – but my heart belongs to thrust bearings.

thrust bearing

The thrust bearing that thrills me most is 15/16” in diameter with a center hole 5/8” in diameter. It is a 304 stainless steel alloy mix of iron, chromium, nickel, and small amounts of other things. (See photo of my actual thrust bearing.)

Thrust bearings are put to use by slathering them in grease between their two washers. Think lox slathered with cream cheese on both sides between two toasted bagel chips.

After this photo was taken my heartthrob was slathered, layered, and placed on a small rod – an axis – atop a stainless steel pole 2” wide by 3’ high. A matching stainless steel “top piece” of pole 3” high was placed on top of the thrust bearing.

close up of wingThis 3″ top piece is attached to a “cradle” with finger-like prongs that hold a 120 lb. angel’s wing of Carrera marble. The wing is 39″ long. The concept, construction, and installation for the support pole and cradle were all done by museum installer par excellence David Graham alongside Patrick Burke.

The thrust bearing allows the wing to turn on a horizontal axial plane 4′ high in my garden. Not like a windmill, it is too heavy for that. But I can turn the wing easily to view it from different angles.

Very few things look the same from difference angles. Very few things are not metaphors for something else.

My thrust bearing has the capability to allow an object of up to 3000 lbs. to rotate on an axial plane at 10,000 revolutions per second. Try that, junior cadets.

DSCN5285A nearly life-size terra cotta woman titled “Waiting for an Angel” sits nearby. She is serene, sure that angels exist and, if she waits long enough, one will walk in to reclaim the wing that fell to the ground and turned to marble. (The wing’s sculptor is Elizabeth Turk. The name of the creator of “Waiting for an Angel” has vanished from my records. There is more about both on my blog Returned: One Angel’s Wing.)

Her dream is ethereal but the thrust bearing that allows the wing to move is concrete. It is not a wish, a notion, or a longing. It is real. We humans need both the dream and the tool.

Humans progressed from sticking twigs into holes in the earth and then licking off the ants to inventing thrust bearings, glorified wheels that opened the way for the industrial revolution, advanced agriculture, and travel in outer space. Can we not find the equivalent to change our human interactions and bring harmony to the world?


We need interior and exterior tools to bring us into equilibrium with each other so we can be flexible, creative, and work together to overcome inequalities such as food for some and not for others, medicine for some and not for others, education for some and not for others, safety and equal rights for some and not for others.

We are stuck. We confuse our selected morality with absolute truth. We trumpet the mythology of our own religion while mocking that of others. We justify killing as though we have no other option. We give precedence to one sex over the others. We favor some races and cultures over others. We imprison people unequally and label it protection of the rest of us. We think guns make us strong.

We entrench. We find it difficult to change our positions and beliefs. We close our doors and our borders and our minds and our hearts. We build walls against each other and then we bomb our way through them to kill each other. We feed our hate and fear and memory of harm done to us until it turns into harm and horrors we do to others.

We lack the courage and vision – or perhaps only the will? – to reconsider our stuck positions. We like thinking we are right, we like not questioning ourselves. But if we are to live in peace then we need to find and use our inner thrust bearings. We need to change our perspectives on what exists, what is possible, and how to get there. We need to do it individually and collectively.

So what does a thrust bearing look like? They are nouns, verbs, people, states of being, qualities.

For starters: Pope Francis, Jane Goodall, Desmond Tutu, neighborhood soup kitchens, dedicated teachers, fair trade agreements, cat videos, chocolate, inner-city gardens, deep listening to each other, forgiveness, reunions, interfaith outreach, art in our schools, nonviolent protests against injustice and inequality, paid maternity leave, respect for the homeless and poor, neighborhood libraries, smiles, increased minimum wage, diversity.

Love, education, and medicine are thrust bearings. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the Golden Rule thrust bearing.

Many NGO’s are thrust bearings. Top of my list are Search for Common Ground, Doctors Without Borders, Bereaved Parents – Family Forum, Women for Women International, Chime for Change, and World Pulse.

Countless thousands of women in Africa are thrust bearings. UN resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace, and Security” to get women at negotiation tables and in the enactment of peace accords is a thrust bearing. Any book by Jean Shinoda Bolen is a thrust bearing, including the just-released “Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman.”

We need countless more. But to have more thrust bearings in our individual and collective lives we must first believe in goodness and possibility. We must hold tenaciously to the vision of living together in generous harmony.

We must accept we can be kind and still be safe, we can reach out and not be harmed, we can give and not be destitute, and we can listen to those we think are our enemies until they become our friends. If we do not, we will continue to grind against each other. There will only be friction between us. We will continue to be afraid in a fracturing world.

DSCN5270The woman in my garden has waited for an angel for nearly two decades. She is patient, loving, and kind. When we humans become more adept at using the thrust bearings inside us – love, patience, and kindness – heaven has a chance.

If a thingamajig 15/16″ across can hold something 3000 lbs while it rotates 10,000 revolutions per second, shouldn’t we as flesh and blood and passion and visionaries be able to find our way out of this stuck place?

I think we can. I believe it is possible.