Seeking a Metaphor
It’s the coldest day of the year. You emerge from the Lex Av/59th St subway station. You are welcomed back to the world in kind: H&M, The Gap, Banana Republic greet you with their warm glow of abundance as you transition from grimy stairs to grimy sidewalk. You hunch your shoulders, bow your head against the wind and, the afterimage of the retail stores stored on your retinas, jokingly daydream: “Maybe I’ll buy a second hat to wear on top of this one.”
There is a chance that also greeting you upon your reemergence will be a huddled mass of matter that you quickly realize is a human being, shaking against the harsh wind that is indifferently passing her by.
Today, I am greeted in this way. I approach the shivering person. A passerby drops two quarters in her cup; she thanks him, shaking still. Close beside her on her patch of sidewalk sit paper bags that I later find out contain tea, a bagel, a sandwich. Coffee.
That it takes the equalizing factor of the weather to humanize, to person-ize, this shivering bundle is telling. That we are only compelled to offer tea, food, clothing, because we understand those as definite antonyms to “cold”. Because of this helpless empathy – my body feels the wind just as your body feels the wind – we see a direct solution to the perceived problem. We feel compelled to present the solutions we know might help. The weather is an equalizer because we are all subject to it.
Well, capitalism is the weather every day
(and only some of us have coats).
- What metaphors can be created to incite responses to unseen suffering – responses that are as readily gathered as responses to visible shivering are?
- Can metaphor help real people?
- What kind of metaphor does that?
Capitalism giveth and capitalism taketh away:
H&M exploits their laborers to offer us hats at a $9.99 price point. Well, it took five minutes and less than $50 (some items were on sale; thanks, capitalism) to locate and buy some basic items that would immediately create a better situation for the person suffering outside: socks, a fleece-lined hoodie, a thick hat. And while on this sad scavenger hunt for warmth I kept thinking, “THESE CLOTHES ARE RIGHT HERE. EVERYTHING WE NEED IS RIGHT HERE.” Now, out of the cold and in front of the computer screen, I am wondering how many metaphor-H&Ms are around that could give us back our humanity, our dignity, but are instead hoarding it behind metaphor-glass facades and price tags.
When presented with the fluffy articles, the person on the sidewalk quickly inserts her body into them, and I ask her if there’s anything else she needs that I might help with. “A prayer,” she says, shyly. I promise her all my prayers, and offer the customary “god bless you”. When I begin to walk away, she calls me back. She wants to give me something in return.
I accept the tea she offers me that somebody has given her (“I don’t drink tea, do you want it?”). But even in this exchange, capitalism still wins: I have walked away and forgotten to ask her name.