Sunshine and Ice

Aleksandra Efimova with Klava

Can contrasting elements combine to create the most exciting and unexpected outcomes? Absolutely! This was certainly the case for me on a late November Sunday, when warm sunshine and cold ice came together for one of my most memorable afternoons of the year. With the temperature a comfortable 50°F, many Chicagoans were enjoying skating at Chicago’s Millennium Park, where the ice rink is free and open to the public. For me, experiencing the day with my niece Klava, it was a good demonstration of the saying, “The best things in life are free.”

I thought about the contrast between sun and ice, and also in ice itself. The whole concept of ice amazes me; shapeless, flexible, flowing water, after a small temperature change, becomes a surface that is hard (especially when you fall), sharp (have you ever had an ice cut?) and supportive (enough to resist the sharp blades of ice skates). Snow presents its own contrasts. Packed into towering banks, it can bring a city to a standstill, holding up transportation and canceling important events. Yet, individual snowflakes melt almost instantly if you catch them in your hand, and their crystalline beauty awes us all.

Many times, amazing things happen when contrasting elements work together like sun and ice, one calling into focus the qualities of the other. The strength of dancers’ bodies, and the lightness of their movement. The powerful dynamic of music, and the gentleness of a sustained note on the flute or violin. Perhaps the essence of talent is finding unexpected combinations that ordinarily we might not consider. The results can be breathtaking, and lead to moments of discovery.

This is true in the arts, and in the sciences. It’s also true in everyday life. For example, have you ever added dark chocolate to beef stew? Try it – it’s delicious! How about strawberries on sushi? (I’m not sure a Japanese chef would approve, but it’s a wonderful, complementary flavor.)

Next month, I begin my fourth year without a television or computer in my home. This might be a surprise for anyone who knows that I am likely to answer messages on my BlackBerry from the middle of a cruise or a train ride in Belorussia! But I’ve found that I can be interested in and informed about the world without being weighed down with the information overload of constant news and entertainment.

As we finish this interesting and memorable year, I’m not putting a TV on my Christmas list, but I am renewing my subscriptions to the Harvard Business Review, Russian Life Magazine and The Economist. As the streets freeze (in Chicago, we can get frozen eyelashes in the morning walk to work!), I look forward to warm, quiet evenings with a cup of good Russian tea, and to taking Klava to the rest of the Joffrey Ballet season, and the Nutcracker Family Dinner.

Warmth amid the chill; melting balances followed by fiery pirouettes; the newness of the world to a child, re-opening older eyes. Everyday contrasts like these make every day a new discovery.