Monday, December 28, 2015

The Wind at our Backs

This Christmas Eve, I ran the hills around my house. It was bizarrely warm out- 60 degrees- as it has been many days these last two months. It is the warmest, most snowless winter on record for Buffalo, and has been warm enough that the fallow farmland is now sprouting emerald green shoots of grass as far as the eye can see. It looks and smells exactly like a perfect spring day with the glaring exception that the sun is hanging in the wrong corner of the sky and casting far too mellow a glow across the landscape to which it is awkwardly married.

I found myself thinking of friends who had told me in recent months that they could not endure another Buffalo winter. For while most people who live here love something about the snow, even if they tire of it by February's gracefully short end, there are those few who begin to brace themselves against our long white season as soon as fall comes, as if bracing for an assault. On their account, I thought, "This one's for you."

I also found myself surprised yet again by the fact that on my way east down 20A, it felt for all the world like a perfectly windless day, but then when I turned 180 degrees and headed westward and homeward, the wind was quite formidable against me. And how funny it is that the wind gets no credit when it is at our backs, quietly aiding our efforts. We only notice it when it hinders us.

So it is with most things: that which is gracious or harmonious with our efforts and desires, we quickly assimilate into our own sense of efficacy. While we may initially acknowledge it a gift, we somehow begin to credit ourselves with it over time. Only when that assistance is taken away can we see how dramatically it added to what we ourselves produced. Perhaps it helps us to take ownership of all that propels us forward; paying too much tribute to outside helpful forces may strip us of a sense of efficacy that builds on itself until we truly are contributing much more to our own success. But I suspect this is a fallacy, that an abiding awareness of our limitations combined with deep gratitude that we are nevertheless able to do more than we ought, can give us much more.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Anticipation Conflation

The other day I started a round of antibiotics and I keep not being able to remember if I took my last dose. I'm worried about forgetting to take one so it comes to mind often, and I go so far as imagining taking one before I actually do. Then the act of taking one is so quick that somehow the memory of taking a pill gets collapsed into the memory of anticipating taking it, such that I can't remember, five minutes later, whether I took a pill or whether I just imagined I did; I keep having to count how many are left.

That phenomenon, so concrete in the pill example, because the anticipated action is so brief and thus easy to forget, is a fascinating one and makes me wonder how much of our memories of actual events in our history are at least partially conflated with our memory of our anticipation leading up to the event, in which we imagined, perhaps many times, if we were excited or nervous, what the event would be like. It seems like an easy way for details to become shuffled, in retrospect.

I think particularly of the potent memories of childhood Christmases and wonder how much I am remembering those magical mornings themselves, versus the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, which were filled with anticipation and wonder.

When we greatly anticipate a thing, the thing itself becomes the culmination of all our imaginings, is but the top layer adorning a stack of imagined versions of the event itself. But we forget this when we recall it; we remember it as a single thing rather than the many that it is.