January 16, 2004

I'm not from here, but I'm learning. Learning what it's like to live here, to survive a winter here. I thought I was being smart when I was getting ready to go out this morning. I went out to start the car to let it warm up. People do that here. It's a good idea. It keeps your hands from getting frozen to the steering wheel. Thinking I'm smart, I discovered, is the surest way to run into trouble. My car wouldn't start. It wanted to, I could tell. The battery was pushing its juice into the starter coil with all its might, I could hear it grunting. Fortunately it wasn't sweating, or the droplets of battery acid perspiration would have frozen onto its plastic shin. Alas, my battery, like myself, is from balmy California. We're not used to temperatures below our age, just as we'll insist we've never experienced temperatures above our IQ. I hadn't left the lights on, or the door open, or my cell phone charging in the cigarette lighter. It was just too cold.

This was, not coincidentally, the very same day they closed the schools on account of the cold. I'd never heard of that before. But to be honest, nobody else had either. What's next, closing the schools because of too much sitting? It began to make more sense to me, however, as I spent a few minutes jump starting my car -- using a native New England battery, of course. It teased my whiny California battery good naturedly, but was happy to lend a diode. The first thing I noticed when I walked outside was that my nose felt funny. The moisture from my breath, I deduced, was condensing on the hairs in my nostrils and freezing. I'd never had that particular sensation before, even in a walk-in freezer.

Within minutes, my gloved fingers were losing their feeling. The phrase, "chilled to the bone," where I come from, seems a bit melodramatic. Here, it's just a statement of fact. It took an hour to thaw them out again. But good as new they were not -- it felt like permanent damage had been done to my fingertips. They felt like what I imagined the old ice cream in the freezer to feel like, with crystals of freezer burn growing tiny citadels and ice castles along the rolling hills of vanilla. I looked for signs of frostbite. I hoped nothing would need to be amputated. Not to worry, everything turned out okay -- with the heater blasting, all my fingers managed to survive the ordeal and went on to brave the still-arctic steering wheel.

Love, what is this stuff? I signed a note with it today. Love, Ult. Is that a request for love -- a command, an order to love me? No, I suppose not. It's a profession of love, an assertion that this note was written while I felt love in my heart. Did I, in fact, feel love while I was writing the note? While I was writing that I was going to a garage sale, and that I would be home later than expected? No, I didn't really feel love then. Did I feel it while I was writing the word itself? I felt perhaps a fondness, a warmth. Is that love? Fondness, in this instance, was not a mild form of passionate love -- it did not include an element of desire or longing that fuels passion. Perhaps, though, it was a simple feeling of unconditional love -- the sort of love that doesn't ask for anything in return. I was just feeling a quiet acceptance of what is -- acceptance of myself at that moment, and of my perception of the recipient of the note; the object of my love. It was mild, but pleasant. There was no risk of losing the object of love, because I didn't consider that I had the object. She was merely someone who would perhaps read this note, and might or might not be reminded of some feeling in herself; maybe love, maybe something else. I had no expectations of the outcome as I wrote the word.

Or did I? I may have to admit that the very corner of my unintentional smile as I scrawled the four letters in cursive was due to the thought that she might derive some happiness from reading the word. That it might be meaningful to her that I felt love for her, and that it might inspire her to feel love for me. So in fact, it was a mix of the two kinds of love.

Is there something that I love purely for its existence, without expectation or desire for some benefit in return? Nature, trees, mountains? It's difficult to see my relationship with these things as being distinct from my own individual nature, including my perceptions and needs. Nature makes me feel peaceful; trees provide oxygen, wood, and paper; mountains beauty and perspective, as well as metaphors. Is there desire associated with this love? Do I need something from them? Of course; we were dependent on each other just as everything is. Do I need them to be a particular way, to be different than they are, or is it their nature, their reality that I love? Perhaps that's the key -- love of inherent nature, versus love of particular reactions they evoke in me.

To love something for its nature is to be one with it -- to perceive its nature. I can love anything, but only to the extent that I can perceive its nature -- they are one and the same. To love another person, then, in a way that is not based on desire for particular sensations within oneself, is to become that person, in a sense. Letting go of one's own individuality, one's own desires and aversions, in order to accept another without fear and resistance. So in effect, love is dependent on transcending one's individual self.