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Loyal Appositions 

I like the idea that as soon as you assert one thing, its contradiction immediately asserts another thing.

Of the Republican who wants to remain president, it is said that his vision is cartoonishly simple, a sort of good-versus-evil myopia. Of the Democrat who would be president, it is said that his vision is maddeningly complex, a sort of on-the-other-hand equivocation.

Like any good politician, I am firmly on both sides. On the one hand, I like the "versus" thing. "Versus" -- from the Latin past participle of vertera, meaning "to turn" or "toward" -- has come to mean "against" or "as an alternative to or contrast with."

On the other hand, I also like the idea of opposites. That as soon as you assert one thing, its contradiction immediately asserts another thing. Show you what I meanŠ

Mind Versus Body. The more ordinary thing is the mind urging caution on the body. But it happens the other way, too, and interestingly. You take a little hop out to the tiny step on the side of the Cessna and get hit with the 8-miles-an-hour blast. One step back, one yelp, and you are out there, 12,000 feet above the earth and falling fast. Your body balks, knows it cannot safely leave a perfectly good airplane at 12,000 feet. The mind has to devise a strategy.

The step back. Arms flung in ecstasy. All the way down, the mind shrinks, the body gains.

Winning Versus Losing. "Some days I feel like a loser, some days I feel like a winner, some days I don't feel a damned thing at all!" -- Charles Bukowski

Cat Versus Dog. Just about everyone has noted that cats are solitary beasts and dogs are pack animals. But note the imperious way that cats conduct themselves. You hardly ever see a dog acting with what could be called a royal bearing; you hardly ever see a cat who doesn't.

Awake Versus Asleep. Doubtless, sleep is the cousin, the rehearsal for death itself, and as we get closer to one, we have more need of the other. But as conditions permit, we allow ourselves more and more time in the border regions between sleep and waking. Other animals do not much do this: They are asleep one instant and in the next they are awake. Modernity and its alarm clocks often do the same for us. That's why to awaken slowly, to lay and await your wits, is to be more fully human.

Life Versus Death. "Life is a great surprise. I do not see why death should not be an even greater one." -- Vladimir Nabokov

Fish Versus Fowl. The smallest of the fish, a dozen or so minnows grazing near the top of the sun-soaked water, sometimes darting, sometimes swimming still. With all that water, these fish have chosen to occupy the 4 inches closest to that other dimension, the forbidden one. The reason may be the insects, things with wings making exquisite and occasional contact with the water. (Or do the minnows see the water as just a jail and cluster near the gate?)

The minnows scatter. Here come a pair of mallards. They seem placid, yet everything in front of them is perpetual, inexhaustible surprise, and you know that beneath the surface their bodies are furiously silly and grating.

They pass on. After a minute, the minnows are back.

Noise Versus Quiet. There is a time when the city gets quiet. It parks its cars, turns out its lights, turns off its radios, shuts its eyes. There is a different kind of quiet that comes up from things capable of great noise, and what makes more noise than a city? Nothing cuts that quiet quite like the noise of a train whistle, that lonely, drawn-out wail that cuts the chill of the still and delivers sadness to the dark.

Cowardice Versus Courage. "Cowardice is a beast that is forever lurking. It attacks us all, every day, and there are very few people who don't let themselves get torn to pieces by it. In the name of prudence, in the name of expedience, sometimes in the name of wisdom." -- Oriana Fallaci.

Many say that courage is understanding fully the risk involved and yet steeling your will to that risk. That definition posits that the mind can control fear. But the word "courage" is rooted in the Latin word for heart, and heart is not mind nor subject to it. Courage is pure and not subject to the fickleness of will or thought; that is why Napoleon wished for "three o'clock in the morning courage," i.e. that which is reflexive and omnipresent.

Power Versus Delicacy. Let's finish up on the grey ground where clashing things merge.

The thoroughbred, pricking his ears, heeding some command that only he hears, moving like he can. This is no rabbit, no whippet, no cheetah. This is something that may weigh more than a lion and a tiger and a gorilla -- together. And it is running around this oval faster than any or all of them and with as much determination as you could want. Yet it can take one goofy step and snap a leg like a wishbone.

This is how power looks. This is how delicacy looks. This is how they look together.

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