It's cold

Early in my career, when I was a pastor in small town North Dakota, I learned that there are times when folks end up talking about the weather for reasons that are not always caused by the weather. What I mean is that talking about the weather is a safe subject when folks are a bit worried that their opinions on other subjects might be controversial. Folks in that part of the country were careful to be polite and reluctant to say anything that they thought might offend someone else. If they were unsure of another’s political leanings, they might avoid talking about politics. If they don’t know another’s religious convictions, they might avoid the subject of religion entirely. That means that there are some settings where about the only topic of conversation left is the weather. Those people taught me a lot about patience. Sometimes I would be making a visit because of an illness or a tragedy in a family. I was eager to offer support and care. However, the conventions of the community demanded that I endure a period of talking about trivial matters before we got to the uncomfortable subjects.

I really don’t want to write about the weather all the time, but old habits die slowly. There are some days when I sit down to write my journal entry and the first topic that comes to mind is the weather. This morning, we are in the midst of record-setting cold that has descended on our area and is forecast to last much of the week. People often say about this area that the temperature ranges from 45 to 80 degrees year round. That hasn’t been our experience so far. While the weather is definitely more mild than other places we have lived, last summer brought record-setting high temperatures to the region and the daytime highs reached into the upper 90s. As I write the temperature outdoors is 9 degrees, three degrees colder than the previous record. And the wind is blowing. Gusts of up to 50 mph are in the forecast. It is definitely the kind of cold for which you want to bundle up before going outdoors.

I have an old, but very warm winter parka that I brought out each year in South Dakota. I owned a dress coat, but unless my day included a funeral, my parka was my go to coat for any time when the weather was colder than 10 degrees. And if I wasn’t wearing the parka, it was in the car with me when I headed out - just in case. I wore that parka in early November, 2020 when a foot of snow fell in the Cascades as we were making our last trip from South Dakota with a trailer full of household goods. By the time we reached our rental home, the temperatures were well above freezing and the parka was hung in the closet. It remained there for the rest of the time we lived in that house and moved to this house with us this fall without having been worn. I was thinking that I just might not need such a heavy coat now that I live in this place. I was considering giving it to Good Will. However, I have worn it both of the last two days and it certainly appears I’ll be wearing it quite a bit this week. Maybe it is a good thing to keep it in the closet. I might even consider getting out my insulated coveralls - another item of clothing that I haven’t worn since moving here.

There are, I’m sure, plenty of problems that will crop up because of the cold weather. There are places where water pipes and other infrastructure aren’t buried the deeply in the ground, because it isn’t common for frost to penetrate when the weather doesn’t stay below freezing. There are homes that are not well insulated. The high winds could result in power failures for some folks. There aren’t many snow plows and the roads are snow packed and slippery. Add to that the fact that people around here don’t have much experience driving on slippery roads while the traffic volume is pretty high because of all of the people and the result will be more accidents with people who are unprepared for the cold. Moreover, there are a significant number of people who are homeless and living on the streets, who are being exposed to life-threatening temperatures. Hopefully those folks are finding their way to the shelters that have opened up additional space.

in the midst of all of this, we are safe and comfortable. Our home is tight and secure and we have no need to travel much. Our pantry is full and we have all that we need for this weather. Other than some higher than normal utility bills which will crop up in a month or so, we won’t have much discomfort over the weather.

Perhaps, however, this extreme weather will give me an opportunity to practice the skills learned during our North Dakota years. Perhaps I can remember how to enter into conversation about the weather and be patient until the conversation moves on to more important topics. We need to talk about the problems of a lack of affordable housing and increasing homelessness. We need to talk about global climate change and the changes in our lifestyles that will be required as we take responsibility for a higher level of care for our environment. We need to talk about the failures of our mental health care system and the lack of resources to treat the illnesses of our neighbors. We need to talk about this global pandemic and how to protect the most vulnerable. All of those important conversations need to occur. They make talk of the weather seem trivial. I know, however, that sometimes you need to be willing to engage in small talk before folks are ready to talk about more uncomfortable topics.

Yes. It is cold out there. No, this freeze won’t last forever. And, yes, we have a lot more that needs to be said and heard.