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Henri Rousseau: Toll Gate (circa 1888-1892)
"The price of progress might not be my soul …"

If there's no such thing as a free lunch—and I'm not fully prepared to accept this premise—then it might follow that all human activity exacts some sort of toll or tax on the human engaging in it. Repetitive motion injuries have been widely recognized and humbly acknowledged. It seems as if half of the more common syndromes carry a professional designation: Coal Miner's Lung, Cyclist's Knee. The most dedicated come to wear their self-inflicted infirmity as a badge of honor designating their self discipline. The less fervent might use their wound as an excuse or a cautionary example, whining rather more than seems strictly proper or necessary. I, myself, maintain a growing list of physical complaints which seem to stem from our Grand Refurbishment work. Some hold no obvious connection, by which I mean that I cannot point to a specific event or action which resulted in the affliction, but each fresh wound appeared during the period in which I was engaged in Refurbishing work, so I classify it by association. I see them as a result of my engaging whether or not they actually were. I consider these damages as representing the Tolls of Refurbishing. I feel equally honored and embarrassed by their presence.

I noticed that my fingerprint no longer works as a security check when awakening my phone.
Perhaps my fingerprint wore off from close association with sanding or maybe the fine fairy dust I discovered beneath the carpet just filled in the ridges, leaving me with essentially a robot's finger. I'm most often wearing thin vinyl gloves so I might have sweated my fingerprints off. Whatever the cause, I sense a loss of identity as a result. If not even my own personal, unchangeable fingerprint no longer represents me, who have I become? Sure, I can enter my Pastword instead of pointing my finger, but as we all know, smart phone Pastwords belong to a special class of codes which cannot be consistently entered on the first try and usually require additional attempts, especially if the need to enter them seems urgent. For want of a Pastword, the call was dropped and the stability of civilization severely threatened. It's not unknown for entire cultures to crumble under less stress. Fingerprint security was more important than I recognized. Now that it's lost, I've lost a subtly significant part of myself.

I sprained both of my wrists last week when I tripped over a bucket out in my Pop-up Paint Shoppe. I landed hard, jarring myself into an alternate consciousness, and as I recounted in yesterday's post, I experienced an unwanted form of enlightenment as a result. I deliberately decided to just muscle myself through and beyond the experience, even keeping it a secret for a time, though I considered whining to mom and getting tucked into bed, but my mom's not available to perform such services anymore and The Muse's not my parent. I finally spilled to The Muse, saying that I fell hard, on my knee, palms, and face, leaving bruising and road rash on my palms. I consequently cannot carry very much weight. It hurts to lift. Even stirring last night's soup elicited a grimace. I seem to be recovering, but that Toll seemed unusually threatening. It could have been that the price of passing that gate was ruinous. I might have never recovered.

My elders wisely counseled me to always be especially careful what I wish for, not so much, perhaps, because I might somehow receive that wish but because of the potential cost of receiving it. Some people, elders prominent among them, become wary of difference as they age. They hold on more than letting go and seem sometimes to try to stop or slow down changes, perhaps because they've been forced into paying Tolls of their own in the past, or watched loved ones paying theirs. Not all Tolls seem onerous, but most feel threatening. Earning a well-deserved badge of courage costs lost innocence. Wisdom never quite recovers the wealth achieved from ignorance and surrendered to receive uncertainty and circumspection in return. I walk funnier now than I remember walking before we started this project. I expect that most of the cost of this advancement might turn out to have been an investment, temporary loss becoming eventual gain. I'll be pleased just to recover my gait if not my fingerprint. The price of progress might not be my soul, but seems to be exacted on my body. The one entering the tollgate is never the same one who exits. We leave bits of ourselves and not just small change in the toll taker's pocket as we pass.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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