When It’s Cold—Outside or Inside

Winter in Minnesota is offensive enough. February throws me over the edge.

Can you imagine living in a state where, nine months of the year, a woman’s idea of “dressing up” is to choose between grey and black wool pants and sweaters? Honestly, I have these great clothes. Long green silk gown, short red strapless dress; doomed to hang forlorn, pretty girls never asked to the dance, while the cruel stepsisters preen about in their dull long underwear.

You know you’re in trouble when the dogs, whose basic nature is similar to Soviet KGB agents equipped with shaggy fur coats, thick muck-luck paws and Attitude, transform into their lesser-clothed Russian gulag prisoners who prefer entrapment in their Siberian prison cells—the back bedrooms—to so much as sticking their noses outside.

This is the time my fantasies turn from the normal—i.e., winning the lottery, losing pounds in one bodily site to add them to another, a lifetime supply of service people—to simpler dreams. Five minutes of sun, even if tepid. A day I can wear my svelte ski jacket instead of Target’s non-fashionable contribution to down coats. Then again, I’d just like a full day of Internet use.

You think I’m joking? I actually live in one of the probably few areas of the country in which Internet access is temperature based. If it’s below ten above—how’s that for a convoluted weather report—my Wi Fi quits. Nothing. Nada. Zero. (No pun intended.) I’m then forced to journey to points beyond, the local coffee shop being my favorite, to sign on and get my work done.

In my world, limited Internet access is equivalent to behind a cook without an oven or a pizza delivery person without a car. (Worse, there are some days it’s like being a pizza delivery person with no pizza to deliver.) Now I can manage when the area Wi Fi sites are user-friendly, but when certain circumstances prevail, such as Mercury in retrograde (which fouls communication) or eclipses (which encourage technology rebelliousness) or my own bad moods (which generate an electromagnetic field of intensely negative proportion), every Wi Fi goes down, probably just in advance of my entrance. The other day, I dragged my son Gabriel to four places before school, just to try and download a simple document. We could only “sign in” at the fourth, and even there, only from the parking lot.

Gabe was okay with it all as he had the most interesting and imaginary breakfast he’d ever had. A smoothie at the Caribou coffee shop, a bagel at the Panera bakery, something non-nutritive at McDonalds, not much at the library, but a good read, and finally another roll at the second Caribou. Not bad for pre-school fun.

Nonetheless, mom wasn’t happy and in fact, never is when it’s cold. And February is the worst. It’s the mid-way point. There’s no turning back. There’s only going forward, and that’s not very appealing.

We all have our challenges with cold. Oh, cold doesn’t always creep in on little cat’s feet in the fog, as the Carl Sander’s poem “Chicago” portrays. Cold can be the feeling we get from a person who judges us. Chill is what we feel when scared. It might best explain our family system or how our mother and father treat us when we don’t do what they want. It might even describe the sense we have about ourselves; the result of continual self-disgust or self-abandonment.

Many of us depict the world as cold, as unresponsive to our needs, as dark, dreary, and scary. Others, especially those of us raised in one of the three main world religions, think of God as cold, maybe downright aloof. Perhaps we’re so cold that we can’t even feel the warmth of love.

I’m certainly not an expert at coping with winter chills. I’ve no amazing cup of Christmas tea to serve Jack Frost, no potion that might knock him out for a few months. But I do understand the pain of the truly bitter.

There are times that the frost from others overwhelms me. It’s one thing, when a former husband goes cold snap on you. That’s to be expected. It’s not like I’m always sunny-de-light with him. It’s another when it’s a trusted friend or a family member gives me the “cold shoulder.”

There are the projects that I was sure would work—and don’t. I have more than one unfinished manuscript, incomplete and unloved, I thought a “sure sale.” There are the signs from God I’d like to rewire elsewhere. More than once, I’ve prayed for relief and been told to work harder. And there’s the chill of emptiness that comes when dreams remain unfulfilled.

In the place of coolness, we want warmth.

What invites warmth? Heat? The fire of the hearth and the heart? In the end, it comes from a decision.

We can’t control the weather. No matter how many positive affirmations I repeat (I am enjoying a Sahara moment; These four blankets keep out the draft), the barometric pressure still falls, as do my hopes. We can’t control others. I can generate 1,000 percent on the smile-o-meter and earn nothing more than a chill-filled comment. I can help and help and help and not make a difference. The client might still die. My child might still “strike out” on a try-out. The significant other might still ignore me.

The only dependable source of warmth is the assurance that comes from a decision to love no matter what.

Love is the only really warm energy. Everything else can be frozen, thawed, or so over-processed that it loses its natural heat. Every other choice will leave us disappointed and hurt. Withholding love—from self or others—might make us feel temporarily more powerful or safe, but in the end, we’re left withered and lonely.

Choosing only love isn’t easy. It’s not a quick fix. Sometimes, when someone is being vicious—when they are reaching for love in disrespectful ways—we have to step away for a while. We can’t make a bad situation good, just by the wishing for it.

Sometimes, when we’re in a hard place, love requires that we face our responsibilities; that we “grow up” instead of “breakdown.”

What’s really hard about love is that we can’t force it into a box. No matter how deserving of unconditional care and love we were as a child, we couldn’t force the affection we needed from a non-responsive parent. No matter how we worthy we are of a raise, it doesn’t mean we’re going to get one. No more how guilty we are of what we’re accused of, we can’t necessarily convince someone of our innocence.

All WE can do is love. We must accept that it can’t be manipulated from others, convinced into being, or tempered through our desires. God’s not going to fix it all, to suit our rules. The Divine isn’t going to clobber our enemies for us or make sure our favorite football team wins. This world is full of conditional love—conditional friendships, jobs, people, and situations.

So why would it be so? Why would we be surrounded by so much conditional love when WE ALL yearn for unconditional love? It’s because we have to decide to choose the unconditional, not only the conditional.

When it’s cold out, we have a choice. We can dream about the Bahamas and feel grumpy, or we can build a fire, crawl under the blankets, mix a Margarita, don sunglasses, and watch the Travel channel. We can save our money and fly out as soon as possible. Or we can look outside and see the beauty of an ice storm, hear the laughter of the children sliding on the snow, and decide that even though it’s twelve below zero and our breath freezes in mid-air, we can bundle up and take a walk.

(Actually, given that I’m choosing only love, I’ll put on my tennis shoes and walk the mall. With my Visa.)