Living on Mount Everest

A child raised on the slopes of Mount Everest knows the mountain is big, but he thinks Mommy and Daddy are big, and the tree in his yard, and the school. It is only when he grows up and moves away and finds that as far as his feet can carry him the mountain still looms, while Dad and Mom and tree and schoolhouse become first specks and then vanish, that he realizes how big it is. It is the same way with the basic fact of our lives: that we were born. That is Mount Everest. And what are Mom and Dad and tree and house, the things that seem big but vanish to insignificance?

Everything else.


Which is Heavier, a Pound of Feathers or a Pound of Lead?

The answer is supposed to be: they weigh the same. A pound.

But it seems like feathers are light, and a pound of feathers would be easier to move. Maybe “heavy” means: possessing heft. Hard to heave. Hard to give the old “heave-ho.” So the pound of feathers might be lighter than the pound of lead.

Or maybe the pound of feathers is impossible to heave! Unless they are squashed together in a sack somehow, large quantities of feathers are neither heavy nor light. They’re not heavable. Moving them is a complex engineering challenge, much more so than lead. So the question of “which is heavier” has no answer. Or the answer is “What do you mean?”

But what about the response — heavy doesn’t mean “hard-to-heave”. Heavy means — if you put it on a scale what would the scale say? That’s the know-it-all answer that the asker of the trick question has in his back pocket.

So on the know-it-all’s construal the question “which is heavier a pound of feathers or a pound of lead” is about what scales would say. What the question really means is “If you took an amount of feathers that caused a scale to read “one pound” and the amount of lead that caused a scale to read one pound and put them on two scales, which scale would read more?”

Could that be what the question means?

Obviously not! Because the answer to the question “Which of two scales that read the same would read more?” is obviously neither! That’s not a trick question.

And the question “Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead is a trick question.

So the know-it-all is wrong.


Family of Rocks

If you are dealing with anxiety here is a trick. On Sunday go outside and find a rock. Give the rock a name. Let’s say Adolpho. Bring Adolpho into the house. If you are able to take a bath or a shower take a bath or a shower with Adolpho on your naked leg, at one of the joints — either where the thigh meets your pelvis or the crook of the knee — it doesn’t matter. Say “Adolpho I love you but…” and now tell Adolpho what his problem is. I said Adolpho’s problem is he is angry at squirrels. Perhaps because one time one of them used him to crack a nut, and didn’t offer to share, and now whenever he sees a squirrel he thinks, one of those selfish creatures who doesn’t care about me. And you say “This week we are going to work on that Adolpho. I love you, but we are going to make friends with squirrels, you are going to forgive squirrels. You are going to not have a problem with squirrels.” I picked the squirrel thing but you can pick a different problem that the rock that you love has.

Every day bring some more rocks into the family. They don’t have to be rocks if you live in a place where there aren’t any rocks or if you don’t like rocks. They could be coins, or pieces of fabric, like rags, or even just a clump of dirt with grease on it, it doesn’t matter. Just give them names and decide how they fit in your family. Maybe the clump of dirt with grease on it is Adolpho’s Dad! He doesn’t know why his son is so upset about squirrels. Why should he? He is sad because he misses being in the Army.

You take Adolpho into your home, washing him in the crook between your thigh and your pelvis, or in the back of your knee, whispering encouragement to him before you sleep and after you wake up on Sunday. On Saturday you have a family meeting. And everybody gets to say their piece.

“Fuck you, Adolpho!” says the dirty rag his mother. “I’m tired of your bullshit!”

“Why don’t you pay attention to me — I am the one who could die around here and nobody would notice and nobody would even care!” screams Lisa Doane, Adolpho’s adult sister who is a dime. “Nobody cares about me! I could be dead! I could be dead.”

“Are we still talking about this squirrel shit?” says a clump of dirt that is falling apart and just held together by grease. “I’m telling you back in Kuwait…”

And then you say “Enough all of you! I’ve had enough! I’ve had enough!” and you pick them up one by one, after opening the window and throw them as hard as you can, putting your hip into it, swinging with your whole body, until everyone of them, last of all Adolpho the rock who hated squirrels is gone.

And that night you sleep calmly, oh so calmly, you can’t remember a time when you slept so well.