I don’t miss the notoriously harsh Canadian winters. I met my first when I was four months old and saw the tail end of it about six months later. We didn’t see eye to eye then, and still don’t to this day.
Imagine yourself in a deep sleep enveloped between velvety sheets on a toasty warm bed. Feel your head held tenderly to the breast of a feathery pillow, while your body is cocooned in a fluffy down comforter keeping you insulated from the howling winds and bone-chilling day that is pounding at your door.
As your arm slides gingerly from it’s cozy refuge and blindly flails at the clock radio, an annoyingly cheerful voice gives the morning weather report. It contains three elements. The temperature, and that is always chilling, forgive the pun. Then the wind chill is taken into account. For those that have not enjoyed the refreshing winds of a Prairie winter, wind chill is that horrendously cruel thing a hearty wind can do to an already sparse measure of mercury in a thermometer. It makes an already ridiculously low temperature, much colder. Then the grand finale is cheerfully presented with a flourish of academic snobbery, I think, telling how many seconds until exposed skin freezes. As if one may unwittingly venture into the 40 degree below day wearing board shorts and a tank top if not armed with that uplifting nugget of information.
Winters on the Canadian Prairies are extremely harsh, and it takes a rare breed of person to call it home.
I tolerated over 40 of those winters, although we liked each other, until I couldn’t bear it any longer and left. I heard her laughing, as if she had won, as I crossed the border heading south to Las Vegas trading the bitter cold for intense heat. But It was during those horrendous winters that I saw some of the best in people. Neighbors happily shoveled snow from the driveways and sidewalks of older folks and were paid in full with a smile and wave from a thankful hand. Others opened doors for folks that struggled, or had kids to carry or herd in and out of grocery stores. Every car had a set of jumper cables in the trunk, mostly to help others that were stranded by a battery worn down while trying to start a frozen car. We were all cold, and we understood what the other person was going through.
The spirit and images of those incredible people have never left me.
As Ana and I were driving in traffic a couple days ago, we were engrossed in a deep conversation. It was hot and the air conditioning was on high, working hard to keep the truck comfortable. We were insulated from the world and focussed on our conversation about the huge changes coming next. I wasn’t paying any attention to life outside of our comfortable vehicle. Then I noticed a man standing at the curb. It was hot out there, and by the look of him it had been a long while since he had felt the tenderness that a home with a warm bed brings. I paused, and looked into his eyes. I didn’t see what got him there, or what he should do to pull himself up. I didn’t see his bad choices, his struggles, what he smelled like or any of my other stereotypes.
I just saw a desperate, lonely and broken soul.
Rather than waste time judging him, I pulled whatever cash I had from my pocket, rolled down my window, and handed it to him. Then I told him, with a smile, that God loves him. I wish I could show you the look in his eyes. I can only imagine how long it had been since he had heard that he mattered to anyone, let alone that someone loved him. With a dirty and well worn hand he stuffed the money into his pocket but his eyes never left mine. He said a much different kind of thank you, lingered for a moment, then with a weathered smile, walked back to the curb.
My words clearly meant more to him than the money.
I suppose that applies to most people. And it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done.