Have you ever looked at a snowflake? Here I don’t really mean, ‘Have you ever seen a snowflake?’ or ‘Have your eyes ever registered a snowflake?’ I mean, have you ever sat down, or stood up, or taken up some bodily position, and given your full attention to a snowflake?
Until two weeks ago, I hadn’t. It may seem a bit strange to say, but taking into account that this is my second winter ever, it was very much a moment of excitement to see this little thing; all perfect and artistic, as though some fanatically meticulous or obsessive compulsive artist in the sky took painstaking care to craft it.
The United States of America is filled with many a metaphorical snowflake for me; many precious things, beautiful to behold, but difficult to see in the blanket of snow that covers them. If the snowflake represents an idea, a perspective or a truth that is part of American consciousness, then the snow that blankets the ways and trees and buildings must represent that over-arching, broad thing that is the grand experiment in democracy that this place represents.
What then is ice? The ice that clumps together after the gentle snow, that gets hard as it’s compacted into a cold knot beneath the soft? What is hard about the U.S.? How about its self-righteousness, its inability to see itself as not ‘the world’ but part of it? How about its propensity for war and violence that calls itself freedom; and that, ironically, exists to preserve others’ ‘freedoms’ in the same moment it denies them?
And what then is the dirty slush? What is it that collects on your shoes and on the walk-ways as the week wears on and the snow melts? There are no snowflakes now but an amalgamation of snow, chaotic snow; running and flowing and freezing in terrifying inconvenient puddles. It’s all dirty and unpleasant to see, smell and think of. For me the slush would be the unconsciousness here, in its varied forms. It’s the all-pervading consumerism, it’s the viciousness of capitalism, it’s the ludicrous liberalism, the overwhelming activism on all fronts and lastly, it’s the ones left behind. Because a land rich in opportunities can’t have left anyone behind, right? It’s their fault; they just didn’t work hard enough…right?
Metaphors are useful and remarkably, paradoxically, amazingly useless. ‘Oh America, shall I compare you to a winter’s day?’ Rubbish. But I shall. In fact, I can compare you to a summer’s day, a fall’s day, Independence Day, any day. Because as long as I live here, reside here, study here, laugh here, learn here, love here, I live in that contradiction, in that paradox.
I will not judge it, I don’t have that right, and even if I did, I don’t know if I’d exercise it. But I will be aware of it. I’ll walk through the snow, or through the slush or on the ice and know the experience that I’m having. I’ll stop and watch a snowflake, and smile.