The Winter of My Discontent

Spring is officially here. It arrived at 8:44 am (CST) on March 20.

But for those of us who live in this snowy Northern city that I call home, winter may not end for another month, when we’ll finally venture outside sans parkas for the first time in a half-year or so.

As I’ve mentioned before, when I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, I was among the few Latinos in a sea of husky blonde children with German and Scandinavian last names. Their ancestors had become impervious to the cold. Indeed, they developed a bizarre affection and even love for the arctic blasts and bone-chilling frost and icy pain that their homelands offered. And they brought this sick predilection with them when they emigrated to America, often passing it along to their children.

This was not the case with my ancestors. They came from tropical climates where people only felt chilled if they had developed some horrific disease brought on by rainforest insects chomping on them. Otherwise, it was constantly sweltering, and they built up little immunity for the chest-bursting cold that is so common in my home state.

My ancestors rarely experienced anything below freezing, while I consider such temperatures to be a comfortable day. And yet I live here by choice. Perhaps it’s all been an elaborate hoax.

I believe that I was scammed as a child into thinking that the climate isn’t so bad. I heard the constant refrain of older citizens (usually the aforementioned ninth-generation Germans and Scandinavians) that the harsh weather “builds character.”

Perhaps there is some truth to this. My time living in sunny California convinced me that people who grow up in gorgeous environments often become pampered, shallow adults. Then again, it’s LA I’m talking about, so perhaps it’s not the best control group.

But even if it is true that the bitter cold “builds character,” let’s be clear about one thing: At a certain point in the winter, and definitely at a certain point in one’s life, you’ve gained all the character you ever will through subzero wind chills. The rest is just punishment or the delusion that we like this or the futile hope that we will become better people because of it. There is little, if any Zen insight to be gained from shoveling snow. In fact, that shoveling is more likely to provoke a heart attack than conjure “character.”

So maybe I’ve never fully adapted to the cold. Maybe it takes more than a few dozen winters to be at peace with the ice and snow.

But then I think of the remarkable determination and resiliency that Latinos have shown over the generations. Certainly, we can adapt to any conditions, persevere over any situation, and succeed in any environment.

Yes, all that is true.

But it’s also true that winter really fucking sucks.


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March 2009
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