19 December 2016

Evading thought from winter to summer & back

I needed a picture to accompany this post, so I grabbed a scrap of a package that was lying nearby and titled it “Wedge Door Stop Brown 2 Pack”; but I did not rotate any part of its text, as I did for the cookbook in my previous entry, because… just because.

Dear diary,

Right now it’s twenty below zero Fahrenheit; and the forecast claims that, with wind, it feels like negative forty. How does the forecast know what it feels like to be human? I remember riding the bus in grade school and suddenly realizing that I had never until this moment paid attention to the seasons. I knew it was winter only because there was snow on the ground; but the other changes of the year – spring, summer, autumn – never concerned me, because I spent all my life inside houses, buildings, and vehicles, which sheltered me from the vagaries of the elements. But even “room temperature” feels like negative twenty degrees to me, because I’ve never been able to distinguish fear from coldness. As a toddler I touched my finger to an electrical outlet and got a shock, which made me cry. This feeling of electrocution is like anxiety with a wind-chill: it’s more than regular terror, yet it contains no additions to the basic rush of fear: its difference is not of kind but of intensity.

My old neighbors? I never met them. I only heard their yelling and screaming, and loud pounding on the walls. One day a cat wandered into my courtyard, so I cradled it in my arms and walked over and rang my neighbors’ doorbell. “This cat was in my courtyard,” I said; “is it yours?” And the guy said, “No, we have our cats.” So then I apologized for bothering him, and I left. The guy was wearing a plain, off-white t-shirt. I don’t remember what kind of pants he had on. Probably cargo shorts, because it was midsummer.

Be let’s return to winter. Imagine you’re inside of a warm house, and you’re looking out a window on a scene of frosty trees that have no leaves on their branches. You see a squirrel leaping around in the tree. There is a nest up among the topmost branches: that’s probably where the squirrel lives. Now think: If you were a banker, how would you go about evicting the squirrel from its home? You’re off to a good start by remaining on your side of the window: this way, you yourself keep warm while he (the squirrel) remains cold; no matter how hard you try, you cannot feel the freeze that your client endures — to do so would require imagination; and, as a banker, you are exempt from such obstructions. The only mistake you’ve made is to open the drapes. Keeping them closed would have left you alone with your figures, in which case your client would be represented by a series of numbers on a spreadsheet. But now that you’ve beheld the being, face to face, it’s no longer abstract: you can plainly see that it is a living creature: you’ve numbered the hairs on its tail, and marveled over its claws and its oversized eyes. And look: its pink litter is braving the subzero temp. Thus you’ve exposed yourself to the poison of empathy; for nobody wants to dislodge something cute from its dwelling place. What kind of hero aids the evils of Nature?

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