Do you like sweet or savory? Are you a night owl or an early bird? Which is better, cats or dogs? Such paired opposites are handy for teaching words like favor or prefer or would rather. They also provide an easy entrance into a wide field of vocabulary—flavors, phrases, animals, and so on. And sometimes the choices lead to declarations that lead to discussion, an English teacher’s dream. A few students, however, will refuse to choose. “It depends,” they’ll say, steadfastly resisting all my attempts to engage them and force a choice. So it is with two students in my intermediate adult class.
But they’re right. It does depend. You want a pastry with your coffee but almonds with your beer. For a walk, you want a dog, but for your lap when sitting beside the fire, a cat. But still, if you had to choose between a walk with a dog or a cozy fire with a cat, which would it be?
The student shrugs. Then the expected: it depends.
The student shrugs again, as if to say, on everything.
Keeping these two determined students in mind, I tell myself the choice I’ve made in my new home for cleanliness at the expense of friendliness needn’t be permanent. It could be just until I’ve forgotten how the cat and dog hairs accumulated under every piece of furniture and in every corner, no matter how often I swept. Or until the animals have become so accustomed to living beside me but apart that I grow peevish at their independence and nonchalance and invite them back inside to remind them of the lost pleasures. Isn’t that what we do? Get our way and then no longer value it quite so much. Sparkling walls, no cat dander or dog hairs, no scratched furniture. At first it seems too good to be true. But gradually I come to miss the dogs at my feet and the cats on my lap, and I reconsider. Opposites do attract. Like cleanliness and the presence of friendly, attentive animals. You can’t have one without thinking of the other. And then you try to have both.
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