Thursday, January 9, 2014
It's amazing how quickly we get used to stuff. I was walking across the Loop Wednesday and thought, "Wow, this is great. It has to be 15 degrees outside!" And I wasn't being sarcastic. Fifteen degrees would have been knee-knockingly cold last week. But on Wednesday it was 30 degrees warmer than it had been in days. Happiness.
In other words, it's all perspective. Not a very profound thought, I know. When I was a kid, my mother had a philosophy which boiled down to, "Be happy you don't have cancer." I'm not sure she actually said that, or I was just summarizing her thoughts. It's not the most practical outlook, once you realize you're setting the bar fairly low. You might as well say, "Be happy you're not dead" and then the people with cancer can be happy too — which, now that I think of it, they often are, perhaps for that very reason.
First, you don't have to be happy all the time. Bad stuff happens, you get to be upset. Our society puts such a premium on being positive, on calling in the grief counselors the day after the massacre, we forget that it takes time to grieve, takes time to heal.
Unhappiness, on the other hand, can happen over time, or can happen in an instant. The same "getting used to stuff" mechanism that works when things turn from bad to less bad also cuts the other way. Just as 15 degrees comes as a relief after 15 below, so after a few days of perfect 70 degree weather in Bali, you walk outside and its 60 and raining and you think, "God damn this sucks!" It takes an act of will to remind yourself, "But it's still not terrible, and I'm still in Bali."
A delicate balancing act then. Too accepting, and you can rationalize any misfortune and you have no standards. Too discriminating and nothing is good enough.
Crossing the Orleans Street bridge, I saw 16 geese huddled on the ice on the Chicago River (only 13 are in the close-up above). At first it seemed an unwise spot for geese to camp out—aren't they cold there?— but then I thought: they're geese. Trust them. They must know what they're doing. They're close to water. What else should they do? Check into a hotel?
Maybe that's the final message. You have to trust instinct, including your own. Just as you shouldn't doubt geese -- they've survived a very long time, they're up on this cold weather stuff — so you shouldn't doubt yourself, too much. A little is okay. Then you accept the situation, whatever it is, give yourself time to stumble around in misery, for a while, then yank the reins and guide yourself into the relative warmth of happiness, if you can, because you only get X amount of days, and you might as well be happy, generally, however cold it is outside, whatever your circumstances.
Fifteen degrees is pretty cold, usually. But this week it's warm. And it's going up to 40 by the weekend, which will feel like paradise. Forty degrees. I wondered what the geese could possibly be thinking, inside those walnut brains, as they tucked their heads against their bodies and waited. And my hunch was, if you could read their minds, you'd know the geese are thinking: "Spring's coming."
Or perhaps I'm being wistful. Perhaps the geese were thinking, "Fuck, it's cold on this river!"