Jul/Aug 2012 Nonfiction

On Being Cold

by Natasha Watts

Isn't being cold the most extraordinary thing? One hardly ever stops to ponder how remarkable it is. I know I rarely take the time to appreciate its intricacies; I just know that I want to get warm, goldarnit. But on those rare occasions of increased curiosity, I think a little about what exactly it means to be cold—and then I go get warm.

Take goose bumps, for example. Someone once told me that goose bumps are a leftover instinct from the hairier past of the human species, when all you had was your own fluff to keep you warm. When you got cold, a goose bump under each hair would lift that hair up enough for heated air from your body to get trapped next to your skin. Of course, when we get cold, most of us aren't thinking, "Ah, yes, there goes that wonderful vestigial reaction of the human species! How grateful our progenitors must have been that their hair was utilized as a buffer against the weather!" Those who are thinking that have reached a level of enlightenment that I have yet to accomplish. I think most of us are still at the "get warm, goldarnit" stage in our development.

But even in my present curmudgeonly state, I can realize that goose bumps are only the tip of the icicle. Just think about the different ways people deal with cold. Personally, I prefer to bundle up in the winter, maintaining a perfect coziness underneath my scarf and bright red peacoat. Yet there will always be that guy who walks around campus in shorts year round. I've always wondered about him. Is he actually comfortable? Or maybe he only owns summer wear. Perhaps it's a guy thing—I've never quite sought to understand the nuances of masochism.

Sometimes I experience cold on complete accident. Recently the weather has been rather indecisive about whether or not it's winter or spring. One morning I left my apartment dressed in only a T-shirt and shorts, but I had good reason. The sun was shining, the wind wasn't blowing, and I walked to campus in perfect comfort. However, by the end of a long day, the temperature had taken a left turn. I walked out of my last class and began shivering uncontrollably. It was dark now, and the wind mercilessly raised goose bumps up and down my body. Even my legs had goose bumps. At that point in time, there was nothing else I wanted more than to be inside and away from the cold. I wanted to be warm. I was walking in limbo, halfway in between campus and home, my mind focused on that single goal of getting warm.

Isn't it funny how desperate I was? In retrospect, I wasn't in danger at all of frostbite or any other serious cold-related maladies. But at that point in time, it was all I could think of. Yet in comparison, the cold I felt that day was nothing compared to what I've endured at other times. You see, I grew up in a state altogether infamous for frigidity: Minneso-o-ota. Take care to pronounce the ‘o' extra long so that you can impress natives when you meet them. We think it's absolutely hilarious and original, I promise.

Minnesota gets a bad rap because of its winters. Some people seem to think of it as a frozen tundra where no one smiles and we all live in igloos made of pain and desperation. But I think there's a little bit of the whole world in the way Minnesotans live life. Sure, it gets cold. But you just bundle up and soldier on.

And who can deny the beauty of the first snowfall? When you live in a place of such drastic weather, every second of beauty is a reminder. It's a reminder of the nature of Earth, and it's a reminder of the nature of humanity. So evanescent, so distracted, but capable of so much as well. Can you feel the ice of it?

I sure have. I've felt the ice of it every year since I was four, when I got out of the minivan to look at our new home after the long drive from Lindon, Utah. The weather had been especially enthusiastic that year, and a foot of clean snow blanketed the yard. Past a line of bushes, I saw what I thought was a giant field—I wouldn't realize until later that a lake called Crooked lived in our backyard. Crooked Lake provided endless entertainment for the burgeoning imaginations of my siblings and me. On Saturday mornings in the winter we ran throughout the house looking for hats and gloves and scarves to keep us somewhat warm. Then we walked across the frozen water to the island just a few yards away. There, we played Indians or runaways, collecting berries and twigs to furnish our tree-fort kitchens and living rooms. When we played Indians, my closest sister, Rina, and I claimed the roles of hunters. First we located sticks—curved ones for our bows and the straightest possible to act as arrows. Creeping throughout the island on imaginary moccasins, we hunted with all the grace and majesty our imaginations could muster—for it was surely imagination. I have yet to see a majestic grade-schooler. But in our minds our dexterity rivaled that of Pocahontas. Lithe as can be, Rina and I slunk through the dead trees and grasses in search of prey. After a long day of hunting, we tumbled back inside, muddying the kitchen floor as we slowly thawed our way out of our snowsuits.

It feels strange to relate these seemingly insignificant childhood memories. I neglect to tell even my closest friends much about how I grew up. I guess I just don't find it necessary to justify my present with my past. My roommate Erin has the completely opposite view of things. When I get home from school, she wants us to tell each other about our days in great detail. When we're lying in our beds at night, she wants to chat about our families.

I want to sleep.

Does this make me cold-hearted? I don't think so. But I've discovered since my move to Provo, Utah that I grew up a little differently than most of my friends and colleagues. It was altogether alarming to discover that most people were raised hugging friends on a regular basis. Come to think of it, there were rarely situations where I found a hug necessary. All of us kids kissed Mom and Dad on the cheek after we said our nightly prayer together; other than that, I grew up pretty much assuming that everyone else was as averse to touchy-feely-ness as I was.

But alas, I was in for a rude awakening as I entered the outside world. The most dramatic contrast came when I joined the BYU Jazz Voices. For one reason or another, this choir tends to be peopled with a very specific type of human being: the guys are tall, skinny, and know a lot about music theory; the girls are medium height, slender, and beautiful. They also have fantastic hair and have never sung jazz in their lives. I fit into neither of those groups of people. I have a smattering of the character traits, sure—I'm a girl, for one. I have a decent background in music theory. However, my hair is definitely sub-par. And to make it worse these gorgeously coiffed veelas are the kind of people that love everyone despite their faults and are not afraid to show it.

When I find myself in a group of people so unfamiliar to myself, I tend to take on a certain persona. As my first semester in Jazz Voices rolled on, I became the crotchety old grouch who was inexplicably beloved by all. I say this not in pride but in surprise, for I still can't quite fathom how quick to love these people are. When I love someone, it takes months and sometimes years of getting to know them. This time is spent becoming comfortable, building trust, breaking barriers. Even then, as I tell Erin, I can count on one hand the non-family-members whom I love. She takes quite a bit of pride in being one of them, but this, too, took some time.

Erin and I first met the week before freshman year at BYU. My parents were helping me bring my luggage into my new apartment, and I couldn't decide which room to take. I distinctly remember her emerging from one of the bedrooms and saying, "Come be my roommate! I brought my own dresser." The temptation of my own dresser (when all the other girls had to share) was too great. I took her offer. Though we were soon spending most of our time together, I didn't feel emotionally attached to Erin until we returned for school a whole year later. After a long summer apart, I was inexplicably overjoyed to see her waiting at the airport for me. It was then that I realized that this was a person that I loved. I still feel strange saying it.

Though we know each other well now, Erin is baffled by my emotional coldness—for I am not necessarily a social misfit. In fact, I'm pretty dang outgoing. I adore being the center of attention. These two sides of me—the recluse and the social butterfly—seem irreconcilable to the rest of the world.

But why should they be? Is there something wrong with being a little selective? But even as I write the words I remember that all-too-familiar scripture:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. —John 13:34

I enjoy people. I adore some even, and perhaps I love more than I realize. But that one phrase—"as I have loved you"—is like ice in my heart. How can I ever, ever love anyone the way the Savior loves me?

I hope beyond reason that I have that potential. Heaven knows I haven't tapped it yet, but I truly have experienced a great amount of love. I have a wonderful family that is overflowing with it, despite our unspoken rule of keep-your-hands-to-yourself. I have good friends who have come to my aid countless times. And I love them, I do. But this Christ-like love evades me.

If I ever gave my life for someone it would be because it's the right thing to do. I've gotten past worldliness enough to scratch personal glory off the list, but my reasons for self-sacrifice would not be as pure and simple as the man from Galilee. He has something more than a pure sense of duty. He has infinite, beautiful, all-inclusive, unattainable love: the ultimate warmth.

But perhaps I'm not the only one struggling with the concept of Christ-like love. Perhaps that's the whole point of this life that we're given. Christ's commandment to love one another was not a goal to be set, met, and checked off a list. We don't have time in this life to reach perfection. What if this all wasn't as easy to understand as a simple measurement of temperature? I have all these memories, these facts, these concerns bouncing around inside this little lean-to mind of mine. I've put up thin cloth walls as a defense against the rest of the world, but not against icy winds or chilling rain. I'm not even protected against the glow of summertime or a well-timed hug. I get glimpses, sometimes, of that ultimate warmth or love or whatever it is. Well, no, that's not it. I experience it almost constantly, but I struggle to convey it as a facet of my own emotion. I suppose that's where the metaphor collapses.

So I'm cold. I get that, and I can be okay with it for the most part. At least for now. I can sit back for a second and think about vestigial reactions and biblical imperatives, and then—eventually, slowly, in a way I can't yet fully grasp—I can go and get myself warm, goldarnit.


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