I’ve caught the Louisville winter disorder. Last year I looked around at everyone pretending that winter doesn’t come here and I thought they were nuts. But this year, this morning, the snow covering the ground took me by surprise. All those warm, sunny November days less than a week behind us, and here I am scraping snow off my car at 7:30 in the morning so I can get my daily shopping done before Josh needs to leave for work, trying to keep the snow from landing on my wrist and cooling my blood too much. Forget gloves; I don’t do gloves. It’s a waste of money when you can’t keep track of them to save your life, and you have to keep buying new pairs. I am doing my family a financial favor by adjusting to life without gloves.
I used to suffer terribly from the cold, no matter how many layers of clothing I put on. But now that I am a more comfortable weight it doesn’t bother me much. My feet hurt and I have sleep apnea; but at least I don’t get very cold any more.
Still, winter is a fierce friend. It kills the superfluous bugs and brings the landscapes of Faery to our doorstep, but it also requires provisioning and outfitting. For the poor, winter is always a little or a lot desperate. Likewise for people who are disorganized or whose body type, like mine for the last 20 years, is unusual enough to defeat the democratizing attempts of the people who design off-the-rack clothing.
I am all three of those things: poor, disorganized, and possessed of an unusual body type. Winter is a sort of recurring torture for me. I purchase what I must and then put off the moment of looking at my bank balance. I don’t want to know, any sooner than I have to, how many days I will have to eat ramen noodles for lunch and beans for dinner. I remain, if not blissfully ignorant, at least satisfactorily ignorant of the weary days ahead during which, if history is any guide, I will break toes and bruise shins and get lumps on my head like a 9-year-old because I am clumsy, because I am hungry.
I have developed the mentality, and the coping methods, of the torture victim. Every moment it is not winter is sweet. I drink it in, not for any permanent good it will do but out of a desperate attempt to “stay” in the moment of relief as if it were a location in which I could hide from the wicked times.
Every year I write a sufferer’s lament on or near the first day of winter. I think I am less depressed today than I have been at the start of any winter in 10 years. That’s encouraging. I think the fat helps. And the sun, that has been shining off and on all day. What snow does to sunshine, that is worth having lived. It is even worth having been cold for years on end.
Some people enjoy winter, not in glittering grudging moments of relenting, but in whole. They embrace its approach. My knowledge of psychology suggests that such people are perfectly placed in life to find winter a doable challenge. It causes them to exert themselves, but to good effect. They generally conquer. Perhaps nothing terribly important is in danger if they don’t.
By contrast, I can’t get excited about challenges because experiences has taught me that I will always miss the vital key to success. It’s some twist in my mentality. Therefore, I get through winter by enveloping myself in those moments during which I don’t need to think about doing the impossible, and the broken toes.
I draw my consciousness in to the moment, just as, when I was a child, I drew my arms in to the middle section of my coat, leaving the sleeves hanging empty, in order to huddle against the cold more effectively.
I watch my children shrieking and running in the snow, how they don’t notice their cheeks turning red; I watch how the holly and the eucalyptus, their dark trunks and stems, their dark lattices and scallops, and their red berries, stand out against the frosted background, and the Theotokos icon standing in her little snow-capped house, interpreting everything with her wise smile – now I draw my consciousness in from worry and from shame and there I am, bulging with awareness and transported to clarity. And I am a little glad. It is good. I am not strong enough for it, but it is good. For all that I fear the cold and the expenditures and the clumsiness and the overcast days that depress me so effectively, I can’t find it in me to want to live somewhere with no winter.
Maybe I like being defeated, if the foe is worthy, better than I like having things easy. Maybe I am too rational not to appreciate the fact that what weakens me does far worse to man’s natural enemies.
I used to pile blankets and pillows around the heat vent on the floor of my childhood home and sit on top of it for hours, reading. The vent blew hot air out for five minutes at a time, every fifteen minutes. By the time it turned on I was already cold again, ready for the heat. Ah! At four minutes I was drowned in bliss. For the last thirty seconds, before the air turned off, it would start to cool down and I would grieve. It was like a little coming of winter every time. But wait ten minutes and it would start again – and during the still cold bundled times I lost myself in the stories.
The young royalist travels Europe clandestinely, working for the restoration of his king; he finds him and looks on his face and lo, the king is his own beloved and revered father. Ah!
The noble Arabian horse is not separated from his adored but ragged little master after all; they go to England, and life is good and races are won. Ah!
The poverty-stricken little girl shares her hot bun with an even poorer child; but wonder of wonders, she wakens in the night wondering why she is so warm and finds that her attic has been filled with luxuries and beautiful art. Ah!
When winter is too hard I can still warm myself with a book. I can still hide from winter in the words.