August 5th, 2011 | Meera

The difference between mass and weight can seem slight, insubstantial—a fact (matter of fact) light enough to float away when textbook pages ripple crisply by beneath the thumb. We forget the two are not the same.

Packing for nine weeks in the pure blue unknown, you fit everything you cannot live without into a space too small to hold it all: roll shirts and shampoo into socks, slip pens and paper into corners. Tuck worry and desire into the spaces left by coat, camera gear, a single Polaroid photo. The whole seems too heavy to pass inspection—but at the airport you find two spare kilograms. Calculate what more you could have carried.

Packing to come home, you leave so much behind: bottles spent and emptied, boots in which you walked hundreds of miles, a feather from a bird you never met and didn’t name. The bag seems heavier than before—yet contains hardly anything of consequence. There was no way to fit a mountain or a friendship into its hollow, though you believed you had grown muscles enough to lift them.

The physicists have a measure for how much a body resists a change in motion. They call it mass; they say it is what we are made of. It is a universal constant, they tell me: I could travel anywhere and resist no more, no less. I understand I must live with this inertia.

The physicists have a measure for the force that attracts one body toward another. They call it weight; they say it is how much we tend to move closer to the thing that pulls on us. It is not what I am, but where I am, they tell me: on one planet I would be an anvil, on another a kiss. (Our language spoke this before our scientists; we knew, before knowing, that to weigh something is to move it.)

I understand the possibility exists to change this pull. But will you go in with me, friend, on a second-hand space shuttle?

A caveat: If troubled by a weight on one’s shoulders, never live on Jupiter.

If congenitally flighty, avoid the Moon.

Some things are heavy.

Some matter.

featherweight (when something is nothing)

One Response to “Featherweight”

  1. Irina says:

    This made me cry, Meera. So wonderfully said. My carried weight is the distance from those who matter to me the most. Well, some of them anyway because I am also blessed to live with people who can lift me up, no matter how heavy I get.