5 January 2018

The Community Of Cold: Who Gets To Shovel?

The Community Of Cold

Maria and I have been sparing over who should go outside and for how long. I keep agreeing that I should not go out in frigid temperatures because of my heart disease and the medications I take, which make the cold more dangerous. Then, she complains, I go out anyway and shovel and walk the dogs and bring water to the animals, or some other chore.

This frustrates her. First, because she does not believe I should be going outside and doing chores when it's well below zero, and secondly, because it is confusing to her that I keep agreeing not to go out, and then I do go out.

She also thinks I am sometimes questioning her ability to do all of this work by herself.

For my part, it is not a question of doubting her.

I don't. It is just hard – impossible, actually – to see her shovel and shovel, and haul hay, and exercise the dogs and scrape off cars while I am sitting inside by a warm fire. It just triggers something inside of me and I have go out and so something to help. It just kills me to accept the idea of me as a grown man who can't help clean up after a snowstorm while his wife does all the hard work.

I suppose vanity is at work, and other things. When I came to the country more than a decade ago, I wanted to find out who I was, and seek out my rightful place in the world. I spent six years mostly alone on the first Bedlam Farm in Hebron, and it meant the world to me to run the place mostly by myself. I shoveled, scraped away ice, lambed cleaned out the barns, hauled hay, managed my life without much help or interference or unwanted advice.

It was one of the great experiences of my life. To not be able to do that any longer is inevitable, but very difficult for me to accept. I think it is a kind of death for me. I don't care for watching other people do work that is in many ways, my work also.

I do see the sexist implications of this, and I also understand that I am woefully conflicted about it. But I know the strength of Maria, and her competence. I just don't worry about her in that way. It's a selfish thing, really. I just want to be able to do it all, and I can't.

But I suppose it is a good problem to have when I think of the homeless, the elderly, farmers,  plow drivers, police officers, the poor,  firemen and women, EMS workers who face the cold and snow in a very different way.

I am too lucky and too healthy to simply not go out in a storm and care for my farm, our animals. I think I can never really accept that completely, I would perhaps rather keel over than see myself in that way.

So small steps, one day at a time. I will do the best I can for as long as I can.


Jennifer Ciulla Van Ort wrote something on my Facebook Page that I liked a lot, she wrote about what she calls "The Community Of Cold," responding to a blog post I wrote about how this vast system of cold unites much of our divided country. The storm called Grayson is not a left or right thing, or a red and blue thing, or a black and white thing.

She coined this term when she went to a local convenience store in her town and saw all of the plow drivers, police officers and EMS crews gathering before the storm. A Community of Cold.

We all feel this unnerving cold, it is not winter as usual, it is not normal. We all wish one another good luck, we all commiserate and think ahead to some relief, we all worry about our homes, our dogs and cats and donkeys and horses, our plumbing and water pipes.

Our politicians seem very disconnected from our Community of Cold, they quarrel with one another, hide out in palaces, play golf.

They don't seem concerned with what so many tens of millions of Americans are feeling now. I never feel they are thinking of me, or the people I care about.

But I think we are concerned for one another. Everywhere I go here, people tell me to "be safe," or "take care" or "stay warm," they say they hope our pipes hold out and don't freeze. Friends and neighbors call me to ask if we need anything, if the house is okay, and I call neighbors – especially elderly ones – and ask if them are okay.

Do they need groceries? Help cleaning off the car? A drive to the doctor? I go to the Mansion every day and ask "what do you need?" I ask Ali the same thing about the refugee kids. More communities.

I like this feeling of being part of one compassionate and strong country, I haven't felt it for a year or so, I sometimes feel like a refugee in my own land, perhaps this is why I identify so closely with them.

Communities are all about caring, and caring promotes empathy and compassion. We all suffer when community is torn and divided, I was sorry to see so many people suffer, but also hopeful to see so many people in the same place, each of us standing in the other's cold shoes, scanning the weather, fussing about our plumbing, waiting for a break from the cold.

This winter reminds us that we are all human beings, there are things we all understand and don't need to argue about..


So I see this storm, this winter, as creating a new community, the Community Of Cold.

We live in communities large and small, all of us, and this morning, Maria and I took a few minutes to sort out this storm conflict, it flared up yesterday and this morning. She is tired from all the work. I said I thought it is natural for two people who love one another to worry about each other.

It is  hard for me to see her work so hard – and quite competently – in such harsh conditions, I see how tired she sometimes is.

I know she can handle it, I just am struggling to come to grips with what i can't handle. She is generous and giving, it would please her if I didn't come out for a minute in this weather, and she would do all of the work herself without complaint.

That might be a wise thing for me to do.

But the truth is, I just can't do it.

I told her I meant it when I said I wouldn't go out, but then when I see her out there shoveling the walks again and hauling water, I just get dressed and come out to help. In my defense, I don't stay out for long, and this weekend, I  won't stay out for more than five minutes. I know frostbite, I don't take it lightly, and my heart protests when I'm taking in that kind of freezing air.

So we worked it out. It just took us a few minutes, we've dealt with harder things.

This morning, she went to shovel a path, I went to brush off the cars and clean up after the dogs. I shoveled the cars out, shoveled the back porch and went inside. That was quite comfortable for me, and I left her to do what she needed to do, without my hovering around and trying to help out.

It is a good compromise, and a realistic one.  I am grateful for the storm, because it brought back the sense that we are all  connected to one another, despite what we see in the news, despite what the politicians do to us,  in more ways than we acknowledge.

Nobody refuses to stop to help a neighbor shovel out their walk because they voted for somebody else.

And no loving spouse can watch their partner work and work without wishing they could help more. That is the nature of life, I think, the pulse of the true humanity.

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