IntertwinedPosted: February 14, 2012
Every day when I wake up and see that we’re having another beautiful 40-degree February day, I’m glad — but also slightly nervous. Obviously this isn’t typical winter weather. Have the poles completely melted yet?
As much as I don’t want to wish a winter storm on us, and as much as I adore hot weather, it’s also true that the contrast between the extremes is what makes both so desirable, and so beautiful. Think about being freezing cold in the middle of a dark January day, dreaming of a warm beach, or of fanning yourself desperately in the depths of August and craving the gorgeous sight of a row of icicles hanging off the eaves of your house.
This brought to mind a quote from one of my very favorite books, Moby Dick: “Truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.”
Herman Melville was a genius, truly. His book, which upon first glance might seem to be a long-winded tale about a crazy captain chasing a fish, is an epic study in contrast, from the patchwork quilt Ishmael shares with Queequeg seen against the tattoos that cover the savage’s body to the good and evil represented in the battle between Ahab and the White Whale.
The quote made its impression on me when I was 17 — and it stays with me to this day. You don’t truly appreciate the good, desirable, blissful things if you aren’t able to compare them to the bad, undesirable, and painful ones. The idea expresses itself in every area of human life — relationships with parents, siblings, lovers, spouses, friends, children; your work and the amount of play you can find in it, or the balance of drudgery and satisfaction; the way you choose to take care of your body and your health (you need to do the work before you get to feel that runner’s or yoga high).
We all want to be in the blissful, happy place, but you never truly make it there if you haven’t first found your way through the painful, dark places. It sometimes seems easier to just avoid those places, but if we do we don’t get to experience the really great stuff.
It’s all one big experience, this life. If you really want to feel it all, the only choice is between engaging or not.
And though it’s frightening to open oneself up that way, the idea that everything is connected, intertwined, and can’t authentically exist without its contrasts is comforting. Kind of like a warm patchwork quilt.