In Defense of the Butterfly Effect: The best way out

“Did you remember to bring your winter things?”

My grandfather misses me, expresses his care over the phone. I laugh and glance down at my short sleeves: we are not in for a cold winter. Weather projections I’ve read online predict warmth ahead, and, plus, the leaves have only just begun to fall. I describe to him the climate we have been experiencing, the warmth of the sun that never fully leaves. As I explain some of what I know about climate change and how it will affect my need for sweaters, I can hear him nodding. He already knows. “Despite what it means for your generation,” he says, “I’ve lived through enough cold to be thankful about it.” At 97 he is tired and has to hang up now. Before we say goodbye, he pauses. “Wouldn’t it be better to bring out your winter things anyway?”

I don’t tell him the winter practice I’ve kept for the last few years. Born of a combination of unpreparedness and stubbornness, perhaps a smidgen of daring, it is admittedly odd: in the dead of winter, if it’s not too cold, I’ll go without a coat. I take the opportunity to run from place to place. Not exactly the most comfortable or inviting way to dip into the outdoors in the winter, but that’s sort of the point. It may explain to the people in my classes throughout the years why at times I show up out of breath or flustered.

Many reasonable people find great comfort in their warmer clothing. Instead of constantly chasing about, you can walk with ease and grace. Warm air from inside your coat occasionally breathes up onto your face, a secret armor you guard against the frigidness of Boston in January. You are a warrior of sorts, but you do not have to struggle. Just being out there is enough.

The practice of underdressing may not be the most popular way of beating the cold, but I wish to challenge the notion that the cold is something to be conquered at all. You may think me mad, but at times I will walk, even if it’s snowing and my more primordial instincts scowl. I aim to see if I can take it, if I will really suffer any more from feeling a bit of chill as opposed to isolating myself from it. I want to know it, to feel it and let it seep under my clothes. So far, I’m still here.

And in the end, no matter how many unseasonably warm winters we may live through, the cold will find a way in. When it does, we can protect ourselves, wisely so, with people around and laughter and loving. But though it’s uncomfortable, it always comes back, and better not to exhaust yourself resisting it. The best way out just might be through. And for now, in any case, the coat stays stowed under my bed.


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