This morning I had to take some Good Neighbor Food Vouchers to a partner agency that was distributing food to families in need.  It was a stretch to get out of bed and face the -5 temperature at 8:30 am.  But then my usual motivator kicked in – that is, the realization that many people in my community don’t have the luxury of getting all the food the want or need, when they want or need, and from where they want or need.  I felt better about bundling up knowing the agency I work for might make a difference in keeping the cupboards and bellies of our Neighbors partially full.

I fully expected to drop them off, get back in my car and head to work for an hour or two, but the brilliance of the snow and crispness of the air invited my to communion with the cold and snow, and possibly eagles, so I headed to a favorite trail by a small lake instead.

This winter has been hard for me.  Hard in the sense that I am not able to do the things I usually do – gather with friends, host family dinner, go to a concert or movie, be with my friends and professional people in person.  I know, it’s hard for you, too.  Maybe in ways that are more difficult that they are for me.  I still have my job, can pay my monthly expenses, and keep my apartment sufficiently heated.  I don’t know what you’re giving up or doing without this year.

During the pandemic, I’ve found peace in nature.  Especially in the cold.  Stepping outside and feeling the cold air surround my face, my hands, my feet, and my whole body feels like a hug. Sometimes it feels like an unwanted hug from your noisy aunt who always invades your personal space.  Sometimes it feels like a cool loving embrace that is an escape from the stale indoor air.

Today, when I arrived at my outdoor destination, I was surprised to see an ice tent on the little lake.  There was a man standing next to his truck, putting on snow pants.  A pile of winter puffery – coat, hat, mittens, scarf – was on the ground beside him.  “Are we crazy to be out here?” he shouted to me as my boots crunched behind him.

“I think that’s a possibility on any day, no matter the weather,” I replied with a chuckle.  We laughed and wished each other warmth and luck as I walked on into the woods. 

It was so beautiful in that frigid, silent landscape I trekked into, I forgot for a moment that my feet and my fingers were beginning to sting.  “I can’t turn around so soon,” I thought to myself.  All the effort I’d expended to get there, the man who’d see start out just minutes ago, both factored into my decision.  I walked on, beckoned by an eagle far off in the distance.

In less than 12 minutes, I had to turn around. (Yes, I did check the clock on my phone.)  Despite the frozen pain in my fingers, ears, and toes, I worried about the man seeing me get back into my car.  Why do I always let other people’s opinions weigh so heavy on me?  Sometimes I have that junior high spotlight personality where I believe all eyes are on me and everyone is judging, even interested, in what I am doing.  Geesh!

As I came to the edge of the woods, there was the man. Damn!  He was standing by his truck again.  But this time, he was taking his arctic wear . . . off!  He heard my boots crunching the snow and looked my way.  “Hey!  There you are!” He praised me for lasting longer than he had, then asked for help.  The pile of shock cords and nylon on the ground by his snow gear needed to be lifted into the camper on the back of his truck.  I walked over and we grabbed the deconstructed tent and crammed it the narrow opening into the camper.

As he thanked me for helping, he asked, “You going back out into the woods?  If you are, I’ll just sit here and warm up in my truck until you’re ready to leave.  Nobody should be out in this cold without a safety net.”  He was right.  

I drove back into town and to the Good Neighbor office.  As I pulled in, there was a line of 15-20 people in the parking lot.  The lot was full of idling vehicles, occupied and empty.  The Food at First Market was about to open.  The market happens outside because of Covid.  Rain, shine, or -4 degrees, people line up. 

I was immediately stuck by the choices I had.  Just a short while ago, I made the choice to end my time in the cold and head back to safer and warmer circumstances.  The people in line didn’t have that choice.  If they want enough food for themselves and/or their families, must stand in line, in the cold.

I invite you all to ponder your choices.  I invite you to choose to work for a world where no one has to stand in line in the cold, to choose between food or heat, rent or car repairs, medicine or phone service. 

Peace and warmth to you, Neighbor.