Baby, It’s Cold Outside

at the U.S. Botanic Garden

It’s supposed to be extremely cold this week, across the country. Many people we know are either reeling from it, talking about it, or bracing for it. Today is my partner’s day off, so we decided to go to Hawaii.

By which I mean, we went to the “Hawaii” exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden in D.C., right by the Capitol Building. As we walked towards the Botanic Garden building, our Little Bean was pointing and pointing at the Capitol dome; I suppose it seemed like the most noticeable thing around in the midst of a gray and blustery morning. She was all bundled up in her hat and coat, and so were we. Before long we were shedding layers and pointing instead at orchids and waterfalls, fountains and gigantic palm trees. It was lovely (and the Botanic Garden is free!), and saturating all our senses with fresh growing green felt like exactly what we needed.

I deeply wish it was so easy for everyone to step out of the cold for a time. The other night I was running to the store, late, trying to get there before it closed, and was stopped at a red light. I saw a man across the street sitting on the snow on the block of public ground there. It was dark, and I just glanced at him for an instant, but…he just didn’t seem “right,” and I quickly tried to think of what I could do to help him. The light turned green and I drove on, thinking that maybe if there was a police car parked outside the store, as there often is, I would direct them to this man just a few blocks away. There wasn’t, and I’ve been thinking about that man ever since. It’s one of the harsh ironies of living in a densely populated city that I could see someone seemingly stranded like that man and have no way of following up to find out what happened; if he didn’t survive the night, it wouldn’t make the papers. So today when a woman was outside the same store asking for money, I gave her a dollar and wished her well. We had a brief exchange; she seemed resilient, like she was going to be okay. I don’t know what, if any, positive difference my interaction may make except that at least I wasn’t just passing her by. I suppose what that’s really about for me is cultivating some warmth in myself, not letting myself just freeze over and ignore the people I see struggling right around me.

Human beings, individually and in community, surviving the extremes: these are not new issues. For thousands of years, humans have observed, experienced, and responded to the cycles of the seasons. I enjoy noticing our deeply imbedded tendencies at these extreme times of year, our longings in the winter time for warm food and cheese as if we want to literally put layers on our physical bodies. Is it just me, or was it unusually crowded this afternoon in the soup aisle at the store? I’m about to try out another veggie jambalaya recipe. I have a mysterious hankering for a spicy stew and some simmering sauce on the stove.

We’ve generating warmth in whatever ways we can, around here. May you also be warm. May you look around you and find someone in your lives, neighborhood, or community who needs some extra warmth this week. May we all make our way, together, towards certain, eventual, spring.

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