The leaves are dropping slowly to the ground, winding through the air, curled, dry edges like brittle wings, collecting on the sidewalks and drifting across the roads. As it gets cooler, my cats become more desirous of my company—sidling up to me as I sit at my table, jumping into my all-too-capacious lap, curling against me as I sleep. I welcome the cooler nights, these sweat-free days, the chance to finally put on a sweater, feel the slight itch of wool, the soft caress of second-hand cashmere against my neck, over my cotton layers. I brew tea, I bake casseroles, I knead dough for ginger and buttermilk scones. I enjoy the feeling of coziness: of comfort food, warm clothes, hot showers—a defense against the chill outside.
Coziness—it’s a cozy word. Apparently, there are academic studies of coziness—what it is, what it means. To me, it seems that it is what we truly desire, at least most of us. There are some people who dream of absolute power, who lust for the most difficult ascent, the most rigorous climb, actual or figurative, up the mountain, over the vast range. But for most of us, what we really seem to want is a warm place to dwell, good food, pleasant company, a soft caress: we crave coziness, the simple pleasures, the enveloping joys, and we dislike anything that interrupts this coziness.
Yet I must complicate this love of coziness, my own and others’. Coziness speaks to huddling at home, of covering oneself, of seeking shelter from the storm. While this seems desirable, even practical, as one thinks of the implications of coziness on both an individual and communal level, there’s an unfortunate side. Cozily ensconced in my apartment, I don’t join the world outside, go to a concert, participate in a town meeting. I don’t try something new, but rehearse the familiar pleasures: a nice dinner, something funny to read, a slice of dessert, the New York Times in bed. I don’t stretch my body and my mind beyond the bounds of the comfortable, the known, and I am therefore saved possible negatives such as embarrassment or shock or faux pas, as well as the practical result of venturing out: the cold shiver of walking home from an event in the cold and dark. But I have also lost out on new experiences, on new people met, new ideas explored. I am in stasis.
And there is more to this than just me and my desire for a soft, easy life. A drive for coziness separates us from others, from meeting people who might not share our ideas, who might challenge our modes of life, small or large. Cozy inside our insulated homes, the metal and glass carapace of cars, we rarely encounter the environment outside, and are thus deprived, deprived of our understanding of the changes, both of seasons and, more urgently, the changes in our climate. Push enough cool or hot air into our homes, we can pretend that nothing has shifted, but it has. Close in our cars, inside our homes, bathed in the glow of our screens, we don’t feel the chill, the burn, the winds and rain that batter our bodies, and we don’t understand the world that surrounds us, the world of which, however unwillingly at times, we are a part. We don’t want the responsibility of owning that, of knowing how each decision we make must have consequences. Instead, it’s easier to wrap oneself up in a blanket, real or figurative, and just be cozy, insulated from it all.