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Personal essay: “Contrasting comfort”

I am one of those people who re-reads a book multiple times, just to savor certain passages, let the familiar words wash over me and caress my very being in a comforting way. How fascinating is it then that one such familiar passage that has remained with me deals with the very concept of comfort itself and how to be the most comfortable.

In the chapter Nightgown, in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, the main character and the cannibal Queequeg spend a long night in bed together and Ishmael remarks in internal monologue how they were as warm and snug under the blankets as they could ever be simply because it was not only chilly outside, but also rather cold in the room and the fact that some part of them were thus exposed to the chill of the room, made them savor the warmth and comfort under the blankets even more.

When I first came upon this part of the book, this very wordy book which some people have not read even once in their lives, it was a small revelation, because I felt myself inwardly raising up my arm and going “me too, me woo, Ishmael, I agree!”. There truly is something to be said of such contrasts, that enhances the more pleasant of the two opposing states. Does not a meal taste even better, after you’ve been hungry for some time, does not a drink of water taste incredibly sweet after feeling thirsty and does not the warmth of your bed hold a certain appeal on a cold winter’s morning, when your windows have been leaking chilly air all through the night, making the floor icy cold.

I recall how I as a child had a certain habit, whenever it was time to change the sheets on the bed. My mother would always air out the pillows and duvets out on our patio, draped across the garden furniture to keep them safe from the dirty ground. In the coldest part of the year, when the garden furniture had been piled up for winter and the pile of bedclothes had formed almost like a nest there I would crawl into that pile and wrap myself with all the duvets and merely sit there and bask in the comfort of those warm blankets while everywhere around me the chilly winter air would pinch and claw at the exposed parts of me. The fact that I still remember how pleasant that was, even though more than 20 years has passed since then is evidence enough of how much I enjoyed those moments.

Even today I try to let in plenty of cold night air in my bedroom before it is time to sleep, so I am very pleased that in this apartment my bedroom leads straight out onto my balcony. In the summer I can walk out there in the morning and greet the first warm rays of summer sunlight and now, in the cold months I can open the balcony doors wide open and let in plenty of cold air to chill the room and parts of my bed enough that when I crawl into it I will be hit with that contrast between warm and cold. And it is the days when I can sufficiently cool down my bedroom that I fall asleep the fastest, and sleep the best. Science even supports this, as it is recommended to keep your bedroom colder than the rest of your house or apartment.

But I think these beloved contrasts are more than what they are on the surface, they also contain a lesson, every one of them. They remind us of how our lives could be if we were not privileged enough to have these contrasts. Perhaps we might just be hungry, thirsty and cold, with no way to do anything about those feelings, with no money for food, a lack of a good water supply and no warm bed to crawl into at night. So think hard on your comforts, your contrasting comforts and be glad.

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