The Single-Digit Days

We’ve been experiencing some very cold weather over the past few days in the Midwest, with the temperature falling to the single digits during significant chunks of the day. On many days, we go about our lives without really paying much attention to the weather. When the temperature falls into the single digits, however, there is no ignoring it: Mother Nature is demanding your serious and careful attention.

It’s amazing how physically invasive frigid weather can be. You can bundle up, wear multiple layers, don a scarf or two and your warmest wool cap, and scrunch up to protect your core from the cold, but after a few minutes outside, your most vulnerable spots have been identified and you notice that extreme cold seeping in. And don’t even think about removing your gloves to check your cell phone! If you do, your fingers will immediately feel like desensitized wood, and you will never get them warm again until you get back inside. In fact, if we wanted a surefire method to reduce cell phone usage by teenagers, we would insist that they go outside on the icy days. We would see an immediate drop in texting, Snapchatting, TikToking, and every other sign of cell phone use.

When you’re walking outside in the arctic chill, there’s no real opportunity for daydreaming, either. The cold is too immediate and intrusive to permit that. You feel the cold with every intake of breath, with every steamy cloud that appears when you exhale, with your face becoming stiff with cold, and with your fingers becoming numb inside those gloves. And if your walk requires you to take a turn into the wind, all you will be able to think about is how to get the heck out of the way of those icy blasts and back into a place that is reasonably warm. And even when you do, it takes a while for your fingers to thaw so that you can unlace your boots and remove all of those layers.

In the classic movie Groundhog Day, Phil Connors–the Bill Murray character–spent hundreds of lifetimes reexperiencing the same wintry Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He taught himself to speak French, mastered the keyboards, saved a falling child, helped old ladies, and learned everything there is to know about every person in town. In the process, he became so enlightened that he could even appreciate the dismal, cold weather, and speak movingly of a “long and lustrous winter.” In my view, that last change in the character’s outlook was the single most unbelievable part of the film. I’ll never reach the level of enlightenment needed to appreciate the single-digit days.

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