Life is in the details

This morning was the first real snow of the season in Jersey City. At 8 am, it looked formidable outside with little lines of white zipping across the air and a fine, white dust accumulated on the shrubs and railings which melted on the concrete. It wasn’t easy to set out.

First snow in Jersey City
First snow in Jersey City

An army of darkly hooded people moved towards the train station in unison at rush hour, carefully stepping on the gaps in the little rivulets on the slippery ground and pushing through glass doors to enter buildings along the waterfront. Many had no work at all in these buildings and were walking through just to catch as much of dry warmth as possible for parts of the way avoiding the elements.

In the underground train stations that happen to be partially on the surface and hence open to the cold air, regular commuters showed an amazing knowledge of warm spots as they deftly huddled in corners with the least cold breeze. You could almost see their ears pricking up with the imperceptible distant rumble of the train as it approached. They jumped up from their corners and zipped past just in time as the train entered the station to rush through the few remaining steps to reach the open doors of the trains before they shut on them.

People shook their umbrellas and boots to get rid of the fine, white, dusty solid water. As the train emerged to light out of the darkness of the underground tunnel before reaching certain stations, the windows showed a sudden change in the industrial landscape along the train tracks. Awe-inspiring for those who had the time to look up from their electronic gadgets.

The malnutritioned, dried-up shrubs and dirty, discoloured buildings on either side of the train tracks had collected enough snow in the few minutes to have become a picturesque collection of dazzling white stiff, leafy, cutouts and spikes of ice and a smooth, pristine white shroud covering all flat surfaces.

Right outside Journal Square PATH station
Right outside Journal Square PATH station

As one emerged from the station, the soft, white flakes impinged on one’s consciousness like being pricked with cold, yet soft metal needles that prevented one from drifting off mentally about work during morning commute, forcing one to connect completely with the scene around.

I knew the scene was striking.

Life, it made me think, is so much about sense experience and so much of sense experience is in the details.

Can I describe it later? Will a summary do justice?

I got up this morning and took a train to school in the snow. Classes were cancelled and I had to trudge back to the station and am back home.

Sure, I could take a picture and take pictures I did. That helped the sense of sight.

Yet, framed as the scenes were, bounded by other things in the camera, and trapped as the people were in the pictures I memorized as I revisited the scene, tied to a single moment in their existence within the snow, it dissatisfied me. At least the summary in words didn’t have any pretense towards representing my real experience in the snow. The pictures left much to be desired by underscoring what wasn’t there.

So I tried the next best thing. Writing about it.

This morning was the first real snow of the season in Jersey City. At 8 am, it looked formidable outside with little lines of white zipping across the air and a fine, white dust accumulated on the shrubs and railings and melted on the concrete. 

But as I describe the white lines of snow outside, I realize they weren’t quite lines exactly. They were sort of spikes. Or sort of thin, straight threads of white. But not all of them. Some were lighter and were floating in multiple directions. They were oblique lines. But at what angle? Each one was different from the next.

So I try freezing a moment in my mind’s eye. And then I try to copy it in words.

But as I remember, after that blip the moment has passed. This isn’t how it happened. The snowflake of the next moment has already wiped out the one I was describing before I could copy it. This is a different line at a different angle. My reality escapes me.

And what about me? Was I feeling anticipation or perturbation as I was setting out in the cold snow? Was the tag in the neck of my jacket a bit prickly as I was looking at the snow? Have I described it?

No.

This is all I put down.

It wasn’t easy to set out. 

But I’m already home now. How do I describe the snow this morning as I set out?

Life was indeed in the details. But the details were so wound up in the moment and the moment was so time-bound that it escaped me. It’s gone with the morning snow.

How can I write about it?

Waiting for the shuttle
Waiting for the shuttle
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22 thoughts on “Life is in the details”

  1. Sensory Memory is an amazing part of the human brain. After experiencing my brain tumor, I noted loss in certain areas of memory, but with working one’s brain just as we would when we exercise our body to keep in shape, we can capture some of what is lost. I think that is one of the reasons I like your posts so much. You capture for me in words what the senses help you store and than you retrieve your memory into beautiful prose. I admire that and hope to attain just a small portion of what I think you are so talented in. Thank you.

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  2. That’s what I love about writing – remembering the details and trying to get the exact word which describes each moment.. so I really enjoyed your description of snow – we never see it where I live !

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  3. I think you did a great job of capturing the details with your words, and in doing so you have preserved the memories far more than a photo would by itself.
    Not only that, but for a moment I was re-living winters in Dublin, while in fact I am sitting on the other side of the world in a sweltering heat wave. So – nice job 🙂

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