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MTT News's picture
Matt Geiger

Our entire lives are spent going in and out of buildings. 

By leaving the wide-open sky and the vast globe, in an unfathomably large universe, and passing through a doorway into a building, we immediately make ourselves feel bigger. Inside a hut, or even a mansion, we sense that our size, in relation to our surroundings, is concrete, large, and meaningful. 

These are the actions around which the rest of our lives are constructed. Into a house, out of a house. Into a school, out of a school. Into an office, out of an office. Into a store, out of a store. Into a movie theater, out of a movie theater.

Even once we are inside, we generally continue moving into smaller and smaller spaces, then back out of them. My daughter begins the day nestled in the cradle of her top bunk, surrounded by pink walls on which a thousand disparate stickers cling. She goes into the rest of the house, then into the kitchen, then the dining room to eat, the bathroom to brush her teeth, back into her bedroom to get dressed, then briefly out, to stand under heavens so large they cannot begin to be comprehended. For just a moment, on the way to the car, her tiny, insignificant size is evident. Then into a smelly, loud, sputtering black hatchback the size of a large backpack, then outside again, then into a large gymnasium where the children gather. There, it is noisy, and despite the fact that it is inside, it is still a place, surrounded by so many moving children, with their voices echoing off the walls as if to reinforce the point, where each individual feels small and meaningless. They are quickly ushered into their classroom, a much smaller space, where they again start to believe the illusion that they are each important–that they are large in comparison with their surroundings, which are accentuated by tiny chairs, tiny desk and tiny writing implements. Even the marks they make on the paper are enormous, sprawling and oversized, with a simple name sometimes spilling over half of a page. Big letters on little paper, a generous overstatement of their voice as they shout into the void of nonexistence. 

Being an adult is no different. We’re endlessly passing into and out of the various buildings that make up our lives, and in them, we pass into and out of smaller rooms. I didn’t realize it until I recently watched an instructional video about how people in the arctic dress during winter. The guy wore synthetic long johns, covered by a layer of clothing, then another layer, then a puffy vest, then a massive, noisy coat. On his hands, he wore thick wool gloves, covered by mittens, covered by even larger mittens. On his feet, too, he wore three layers. 

When it was all over, all I could think was: “My god, imagine constantly having to take all those layers on and off, every time you went inside or outside.” I think that’s why so many of us, here in the cold Midwest, choose to skitter to and fro during the winter, choosing to be cold for a little while, while we dash to the car, or to the door, rather than putting on the appropriate layers.

It’s not the most romantic way to think about the breadth and depth of a human life. That we, like an annoying pet dog, spend the majority of our time wanting to pass through thresholds, only to turn around and pass through them again. But it feels strange not to. Think of those days when you are in bed with the flu, and you stay in your home for 24 hours. It always feels so strange, so bizarre, as if you have lost all connection to the world. Or think of the times you go camping, and as you pack up the car to head home, you shake your head and think: “I haven’t been inside a real building in 36 hours! What a wacky adventure I’m having!”

It would be a cynical way to describe a complete life to our children, to tell them they will spend most of their days going into and out of different boxes, escaping the open air of the out-of-doors, which is certainly a name that reinforces my point. Think of the places we sleep, those small, closed in squares, where we feel large and therefore safe while we slumber, in a place where we are in fact at our most vulnerable. Think of our showers, the only time each day we shed out protective clothing, as we prepare to start our day, and we think: “It’s okay that I’m naked; I’m in a tiny box!” Every adult feels like a giant in the shower, where your shoulders are a little too wide for the walls, and you will hit the ceiling with your hand if you raise it too high. 

“The debt collectors can’t get me in here,” you think to yourself, soaking wet. “I’m safe as long as I remain in this, the tiniest space in my home.”

Think of the way you feel while at a crowded dinner party, bar or restaurant, when you leave the dizzying hubbub, where your voice must compete with so many other voices, and your ears must struggle to take in even a few of the stories, and you enter the little, intimate space of the bathroom. Closing the door behind you, you are immediately faced with a mirror. In it, you see yourself, always a little older and a little more tired than you thought you were, standing in a tiny room, and you immediately feel your importance swelling. Under the brighter lights, in this smaller space, you are able to hulk. It feels good, for a moment, to pretend that you matter. To pretend that you are big. But once you gather yourself, it feels just as good to take a deep breath, swing the door open, and pass back through it, out into the larger spaces where we know the truth, which is that we are each small and unimportant. 

Because to be small and unimportant is to be alive in the world. And that, despite what you read in the comment sections and hear on the news, is the greatest thing of all. There will be plenty of time, later, to pretend you are big. Plenty of time to pretend you matter. Inside the smallest of boxes, resting beneath a stone marker, keeping up the illusion of size and meaning, but never again passing through a doorway, never again going in or going out, which is the way we all–rich and poor, young and old–spend our waking lives. 



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