Every year when winter starts to hit, I go into rebellion. I hate being cold. Once the temperature starts its decline and the wind starts biting and you know that soon the snow is going to make the roads and sidewalks a slippery mess at best and a dangerous sheet of ice at worst, I complain, grumble and wonder why I continue to subject myself to this torture year after year.
It takes me about a month to get used to it. But I don’t just get used to it. Inevitably, every year, I start to love winter. It’s not just contrasting and beautiful, although it is that. Winter makes it more difficult to live, and that makes you think more deliberately about how you live. You have to think more about what you wear, how you travel, where you’re going and when and why. You have to feel cold and realize that you can’t just ignore what you’re feeling. You have to feel inconvenienced. You have to feel uncomfortable. You have to feel fortunate for everything you have that keeps you from staying in the cold, because you are so close to the crystalline reality of what it would be like it you didn’t have it. You have realize empathy. You have to feel.
If you like winter, have I ever got a city for you. Last winter was my first in Chicago, and it tested my appreciation. I grew up in rural northeastern Ohio, where we still got the edges of lake effect snow from Lake Erie and driving through a foot of snow on gravel roads was not unusual—but winter in the big city on Lake Michigan is another game altogether. Knowledgeable Chicagoans will tell you that the “Windy City” moniker comes not from the weather but the history of politics—but that’s little comfort when that wind slices through you like a knife. Chicago is the best city in the world, but, in so many ways, it is not a city of mercy.
Last winter I realized I liked living in a place that forced me to be so tough with myself. There is nothing more dangerous to progress and growth than a comfortable life. It makes you complacent, unaware and incurious. It makes you take your life for granted. It’s always gut-wrenchingly difficult to make myself uncomfortable. It’s always a struggle and I always rebel against even my own good intentions. I probably always will. But I’ve become better at doing it anyway, because I’ve learned that the alternative is worse.
If not today, then soon will be the day when the temperature is below freezing and the winds coming off of the lake steal away your breath. Good. Go out into it. Go out and put yourself with the places and people and situations that challenge you and give you perspective and make you feel something besides comfortable. Find ice-cold clarity. Work hard and earn your spring. Fortunately, winter’s just begun.