It was starting to get pretty cold inside.
This was the sixth outage in twenty-four hours, and it was making for quite an interesting Christmas. Thanks to a winter storm that had produced record-setting low temperatures across most of the nation, the utility companies had to initiate rolling blackouts system-wide to conserve a critical power supply. Since it was zero and below outside, it didn’t take long for the house to go from warm to cold. It was getting pretty hard to keep the heat in, especially in a house where the seals and frames meant to keep the outside away were worn and weathered.
With spotty electricity, frozen pipes, and no internet connection, the world flocked to their data-laden phones for updates on when normal would return. While I appreciated the reminder that candlelight and books were relaxing, the situation was anything but. I also was anxious to know when I could expect relief from the red-light-green light game that had ensued every time the power went down. This was year three of the unusual and unexpected dictating how we celebrated the birth of Jesus, and I was growing weary. All the humans were growing weary.
As I scoured social media looking for plans for the unplanned results of the winter storm, I did find something heating up, but it wasn’t my thermostat. The tempers of the humans were flaring high as they tried to force through Christmas plans and holiday happenings. People were giving protest about the blackouts, producing yet another division for humans to argue about. And argue they did.
Some were angry that they paid good money for power and internet that they couldn’t use. Some were angry that the angry people were being inconsiderate of the linemen who were missing their Christmas celebrations to try to make sure the power was on at all. Some were firm in pointing out the need to be thankful that we even had a warm roof over our heads. Some were thrilled that the break from the screens and the noise was presenting opportunities for an old-fashioned holiday. Some were panicked over family members who were without medical equipment and lifesaving technology every time the power went off. Some were worried about serving ham that had been cooked and cooled repeatedly every time the stove shut off.
I shook my head at the chaos of comments and put the screen down, mentally drained from reading one argument and blaming message after another as everyone pointed out how wrong the others were. What good did all this arguing do? What was the point? I rolled my eyes at some of the nasty comments and wondered why they couldn’t play a game with the kids or read a book and enjoy the break from the noise instead of beating up on others with an opinion. Inside, I patted myself on the back for not being the one whining and being mean to the humans because things were not turning out as planned.
Well, not this time at least.
I could roll my eyes all I wanted, but I might need to get a mirror while I do so. Somehow, I had convinced myself that just because I was not posting inflammatory comments on social media or standing around complaining about what I could not get done it made me some kind of perfect example of going with the flow.
So . . . there is a perfect example of a big fat lie.
I might have been generally holding this one together but worry and complain are probably alternative names listed on my birth certificate. Just because this particular time I had figured out how to live like Mary amid something unexpected did not change the fact that most of the time I whined like Martha when things went differently than planned.
Just because I didn’t tend to throw it out there for the world to see did not mean I was not usually a member of the “something changed and this stinks” complaint club. My membership card was laminated, and I was usually first in line at the poor me table. But this time, for whatever reason, I had the privilege of reading all those comments from the outside looking in. But don’t let me fool you, for I quickly started judging those that were judging, forming my own opinion about the snarky words thrown from one to another. But that grew cold quickly, and as the arguing about who was right and who was wrong went on and on, I started looking for the point. I gained something more valuable than an opinion.
The humans really were growing weary. And the cold was sneaking in fast. Our hearts needed a serious defrost. The more I read, the more of a frozen pattern I saw, and the more I knew we needed to see with different eyes. I had to read this with different eyes.
Initially, I thought some of the comments and reactions were childish and harsh, but also didn’t have fourteen people coming for dinner and an oven full of undercooked food. I considered some of the comments inappropriate and cruel, but I was not sitting in a silent house alone on Christmas or keeping the heat off because I can’t afford to pay the bill when it comes. I was not living their lives, going through their struggles, or holding their worries. So how can I, or anyone else, say their words are wrong for their situation when I have no clue what their situation is like?
Was it just that simple? Did we all just need to be more compassionate and talk nicer to one another? I actually think it is going to require more than even that for us to warm up. I think we have to turn things inside out.
I thought about the moments in my past when I was arguing and complaining about something and knew right away most of the time, I was not even talking about the real problem. I keep that safe inside and keep the game face on the outside. This meant many of the moments in my life when I have said inhumane things, they were often underwritten by something much more human.
When I have had unexpected events occur and have started to derail in panic and frustration, what I wanted more than anything was for someone to at least understand how I felt. To see through my complaints to my vulnerable fears and concerns. I wanted comfort, not conflict. I wanted to be heard not countered. I wanted someone, anyone, to have a conversation of compassion with me, not comment upon how I should be handling it. I wanted a companion in my struggle. I did not want to be alone. I certainly didn’t want to be told how what I felt was wrong. I wanted comfort, warmth, and assurance of even a flicker of power.
So did all those people online.
We, and our houses, are meant to keep the two very separate. But then a storm comes along trying to bring in the cold, and you fight tooth and nail to lock up tight instead of trying to send warmth out. It feels dangerous, vulnerable, and even wrong, to let the inside out. “Close the door, you are letting the heat out,” my grandmother used to say. But we can close that door all we want, but that cold is going to work its way in. It always does.
Unless we start speaking words of truth and words of warmth. Unless we start talking about what is really wrong in really right ways.
It is hard to admit we only wanted someone to understand that not getting that ham cooked made us feel like a failure in front of an in-law that is already judgmental enough. It is tough to talk about how the neighbors had already called children’s services on us three times and we are trying to do all we can to pay the heating bill on minimum wage while keeping the children warm. We can’t tell out loud how empty we feel because our child, once again, is skipping coming home for yet another holiday or discuss the anger of watching our husbands miss Christmas for the fifth time because he is trying to take care of what appears to be a world full of ungrateful people.
These are the things we don’t say out loud. I know I sure don’t. But unless I want the cold to take over, I have to.
I have to start understanding it is not just about being kind with our words, but also recognizing that the words we don’t say, the ones locked inside, often matter just as much, if not more, than the words we do. I have to recognize the hidden fears we cover with angry words to keep hidden the compassion we refuse to give are habits that don’t keep anyone warm. There is always more to the story that we don’t tell. Always. And the lack of warmth is affecting us. Tempers can only produce fleeting heat that fades fast. We need something more substantial.
So, I reread the comments that seem to keep carrying on—the ones I rolled my eyes at—and I tried to understand what weight the commenter might be carrying that they were not saying out loud. I tried to remember that while the season is keeping everyone on edge, it is the reason for it that should be directing my responses and my conversations.
Because we are getting pretty cold inside. Our seals keeping the outside on the outside are worn and weathered and we are starting to feel the cold creeping in. We are not keeping our hearts warmed with compassion and our minds renewed with the power that can change lives. We are not sending that power out in truth to others so they can gain warmth from our struggles. We are blasting more cold at each other while we sit in the middle of dead winter ourselves. There is only one way to do better, no matter how cold it is out there, we have to turn the inside out. We have to produce a warmth that huddles us together against the storm.
Time to get warm, my friends.