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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Then it bit.


Summer nights of 10 degrees is sometimes what you get in Norway. It's annoying in a betrayal kind of way. I was getting used to the relative warmth. Loving the 18 degree weather, going to the beach, walking around in a tee-shirt. Then it bit.

I know that the brain can’t remember pain because if you relive the memory every time you don’t really feel the pain when it happens again and then it’s not as effective a warning. Same for cold. I can remember that my feet used to freeze in winter. I remember that it felt like walking on razor blades, like every nerve ending was being shredded by the cold. It wasn’t numbing, it was awakening, and I could feel every part of my body. I knew I had hands because that’s where I felt pain and I knew I had toes because they were on fire or ice more like. I knew I had skin on my face because I could feel it scream every time I went out.

Then summer came and these things went away. The walking around in a freezer feeling was a distant memory and as it got warmer I wasn’t sure I actually felt these things ever. I was prepared for a warm last stint then it got cold. It got really cold. My teeth chattered, my legs shook, my nerves stood on end begging for an end and I was so angry.

I was pissed off at the rain, pissed off at the clouds, at the sky, at the people around me. Betrayal crept on me like the weather. My mood plummeted and I was tired all the time. Hated walking down the main street, hated stopping walking to talk. Everything was tinged with malice. The malice born of broken promises and botched possibilities.

It was just weather but it felt so… personal. Like it was just for me that this happened.

"All trust involves vulnerability and risk, nothing would count as trust if there were no possibility of betrayal" said Robert C. Solomon and that sounds true enough. It’s cynical but it feels like a fact. Trust is a choice and I make it in the face of all the reasons not to. It’s a decision based on nothing but air. Past experience with humanity begs us not to trust. Past mistakes tells us what happens when we do. Past pain is a harbinger of future pain and still we trust. The people you trust most are always the ones whose betrayal would bite the most. Cut through layers of clothes until it finds your skin open and vulnerable waiting for a pinprick and a flow of blood that isn’t that easily staunched.

But the brain doesn’t remember pain. Maybe that’s part of what makes us human. Hope is insanity. It’s a belief that things are getting better in the face of them not going anywhere. When I was in university we had this lecture and the lecturer was so convinced that things were so much worse than they used to be in Kenya. “Look how young people are when they die now… our grandparents would all get to their eighties before they went.”

And I put up my hand in indignation ready to make the point that things may be bad but they were better than they ever could be. Look at a fairly objective picture of whether medicine is working-infant mortality- it’s not as bad as it was. We’re not having ten children in expectation of losing half. We don’t wait a month before we name a child any more. We don’t have the expectation that most of them will drop out of the race of life before they are old enough to wear their names. Naming things does make it harder to let them go. I read once about this guy who when he went out to dinner the first thing his daughter would do was to name all the lobsters so that he wouldn’t order one to eat, but I don’t think it works for children. I don’t think it couches the pain that’s felt at such a loss to humanity. The loss of all that potential and all that love. All that’s invested in the child before they are more than a bump. There are few things worse than small coffins and a world filled with less of them cannot possibly be a world getting worse.

Then I read something like the Great War for civilisation and find out that Iran once had to buy 500,000 small coffins. The state of our world means that under every rock and stone, under every half-buried boulder there’s a sad story waiting, there’s a parent wailing, there’s a child ailing, and  a heart breaking. Once all the tragedy human beings knew was their own. You knew what happened to your family and your friends. You didn’t hear about a tsunami thousands of miles away. You didn’t have to question the justice of a war being fought halfway round the world by people you don’t know and never could. You weren’t bombarded with picture after picture of pain and pathos. Now we are. Now no matter how bad it is you can take comfort in the fact that it’s worse, so much worse for someone else.

And is that enough comfort? I can see why my lecturer thought it’s getting worse. She grew up in a time of less connectedness.  Less stories about how bad it is for others around the world. Once it was bad for Kenyans and Kenya but now we know America isn’t the paradise it was promised to be that Europeans have just as many problems as we do that money and happiness aren’t the same thing that they never are.  We ran our country for 40 odd years and all we did was run it into the ground and the same thing keeps happening. Infant mortality may have gone down but once in a while there is an infant death and that stops everything. Numbers don’t matter when the only number that matters is one.

Then it gets warm gain. Its 16 degrees today, am in a short am going to play a game of basketball at 8 pm and honestly am happy. Black moods have lifted and I can see past the clouds.

For now life is good and I can’t remember how it felt when my skin was being flayed by the winter(my friend says there's no summer here only white winter and green winter). My anger at the weather seems to be a curiosity that I can laugh at now. Was I seriously that angry? Did I really compare it to being cheated on and swear never to forgive. I close my eyes to the rays of sun and there’s that red blur that comes up against it. The red blur of warmth and I forget how much I missed her and that I need to prepare for next time.

Winter is coming” the Starks remind themselves all summer long but that’s why I don’t want to be a stark. Give me gold and glory; keep your honour and foresight. Give me the knowledge, even if it’s hard won and a lie that winter will never come again. For now am glad my brain forgets because if you think about it, if you really think about it there’s not much to be hopeful about, resources are at an end, armies begin to arm, nations begin to prepare and a sad carpenter somewhere is putting the finishing touches on tiny little coffins with tiny little nails. Pinpricks of pain every time he hammers them in, breaking apart the wood, worming into the grains.

The image of this carpenter puts me in mind of this passage from the Brother's Karamazov, the devil appears and is talking to one of them and he says

"I was there when the Word, Who died on the Cross rose up into heaven bearing on His bosom the soul of the penitent thief. I heard the glad shrieks of the cherubim singing and shouting hosannah and the thunderous rupture of the seraphim which shook heaven and all creation, and I swear to you by all that's sacred, I longed to join the choir and shout hosannah with them all. The word had almost escaped me, had almost broken from my lips...But common sense-oh a most unhappy trait in my character- kept me in due bounds and I let the moment pass! For what would have happened, I reflected, what would have happened after my hosannah? Everything on earth would have been extinguished at once and no events could have occurred... I know of course there's a secret in it but they won't tell me the secret for anything... I, too, shall walk my quadrillion and learn the secret. But till that happens I am sulking and fulfil my destiny though its against the grain."

If he can still hope so can we.