On Comparison

That’s how it is because it’s always been that way. And because that’s how it is, and they know that’s how it is, they don’t need to explain. And because they don’t need to explain, they don’t talk about it, and that’s how it is.

Which makes it hard to explain because it means thinking about what it is. What it is.

And that’s what I lose when I’m away, and what I slip into when I’m back. It’s the pair of jeans that’s stiff for just a moment when first out of the wash but soon soften completely, fitting the contours of the body as a skin. It’s a flicker of unconscious observation that things are the way they always were before falling into a groove so deep that there’s nothing to see without a point of comparison.

Patterns are comfortable, easy, normal. Evolutionary, after all. Patterns have been expected for so long that there might be observations made but no questions asked, at least not out loud. It’s the changes that are questioned, the things that are no longer the way they were before, the things that are just different enough to seem jarringly out of place. And it’s only with comparison that we notice, the comparison brought by distance or time or the dramatic life events that have us seeing everything with different eyes.

I’ve slipped in and out of many skins and they snag sometimes, like the way leather boots rub the backs of heels used to the freedom of sandals. Sometimes a sweater deemed cozy in one environment is garish in another, or a favourite work dress is suddenly completely out of place. Sometimes the clash is obvious, and sometimes it takes a moment to put a finger on just what doesn’t fit. But once identified, it cannot be ignored. The broken zipper catches in all the wrong places and tugging it closed is an inconvenience that turns into irritation.

Late at night is usually the time when everything feels wrong, where the life chosen and celebrated is under the microscope of inquisition, its only fault being that its course is reality and its outcome unknown. (This is living, after all.) The life not chosen, the path not taken, is the one full of possibility and because nothing is known, anything is possible. The life chosen and experienced in medias res suddenly seems written to conclusion. The allure of the other choice is just that, allure, because we can neatly conclude everything when we know nothing. The mind spins patterns and the patterns reveal themselves in stories, compelling for their certainty despite the gossamer substance of dreams.

In the morning it’s easy to see the dreams for what they are, to dissolve the wisps into smoke and settle back down to earth. But what doesn’t go away, what never goes away, is the swell of questions that comes from the lofty heights of comparison. It’s easy to find fault with what there is when what there could be only exists through rose-coloured glasses. And it’s easy to forget that the forks in the road were once obscured with weeds, or that the signs were old and faded. It’s easy to forget that the choice was to walk through the open door because another door had closed. It’s easy to be nostalgic for what is no longer, and easy to fall for what never was and couldn’t be.

It’s having the courage to look forward instead of sideways, to go confidently while the world turns, that is somehow obscured late at night. To commit to what was chosen and to let that path shape itself around a body that has itself changed. The jeans might need to be let out or taken in, held up with suspenders or cut down into a purse, but the jeans shape themselves to the body they’re given; we either fully embrace where we are or run the risk of forgetting to live at all.

And because it always, always helps to remember, here I end with words borrowed:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost

Bad Herrenalb, Germany – February 2023

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