Extremities

Image courtesy Artinnaturephotography.com

We moved into our little apartment near Bald Eagle Lake, Minnesota on an excruciatingly hot July afternoon. The first thing we did, even before unpacking, was run to a fast food restaurant, and then to the grocery store, where we stocked up on Pepsi and worked our way through the entire twelve pack in two days.

The move was a spontaneous one. Spontaneity is the hallmark of many of our — my  — major life decisions. My husband had just finished up his Masters requirements in Indiana, and I was itchy for a new adventure. My oldest brother and his wife lived in Minnesota, and they frequently sang its praises, so off we went.

The day we moved into our apartment, I wrote in my journal that our new neighborhood reminded me of the beach. We were surrounded by lakes. I couldn’t wait to spend lazy afternoons walking along the docks watching the sailboats. The temperatures in the weeks that followed frequently reached into triple digits, though, so the few lazy afternoons we had were spent in air conditioning. Then, when the temperature began to cool enough to be outdoors, they were harder and harder to come by as we settled into new jobs and became familiar with our new surroundings. Before we knew it, sweltering days were replaced with blistering ones, with temperatures frequently in the negative double digits. The first time I put on my L. L. Bean parka rated for 35 below zero, the reality of what we had done set in. Undeterred, I stepped into my first Minnesota winter with an expectant spirit and weatherproof boots.

My husband played on his company’s broom ball team. About once a week after work, he would throw on umpteen layers and a special pair of shoes and hit a ball around a sheet of ice. I would stand on the sidelines with all my extremities except for my eyes shielded from the brutal arctic weather. After every game, we would look at each other and say, “We must be nuts.” Yet, the next week, and the next, we would go back, sometimes even grabbing a bite to eat with his coworkers after the game. Our five and a half years in Minnesota were some of the best of my life. A large part of my heart is still there, no doubt to stay.

This morning, I got into a discussion with two of my own coworkers about the phenomenon of recalling times of discomfort with fondness. This is a recurring theme in my present season of life, so I’ve been sitting up straight and paying attention when it comes up. Our discussion immediately took me back to Minnesota, a state known for its temperature extremes. I remarked that the people I met there were some of the happiest people I had ever met. On the contrary, I think of places like Miami, where tropical weather and a multitude of things to do should ensure that anyone living or visiting there would be eternally optimistic. One article I read claims that Miami’s crime rate is 66 per 1,000 residents. 6.6%. The latest statistics show a crime rate of 49 per 1,000 residents in St. Paul. This may not seem like a drastic difference, but that is seventeen people per one thousand. Seventeen. St. Paul regularly makes the list as one of the top fifty cities with the lowest crime rates. Miami, the last time I checked, ranked number seven on the “11 Most Dangerous Cities” list. Scandinavian countries, known for their temperature extremes, consistently rank among the happiest in the world.

I know there are many, many variables that have to be considered when determining what makes one place more likely to be safer or more dangerous than another. But I can’t help but wonder if extremes aren’t somehow necessary for fostering things like gratitude, acceptance, and optimism. Extremes tend to make humans migrate inward — toward shelter from the elements, and toward each other. As my coworker said this morning, “It’s not about stuff.” I’m inclined to agree.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matthew 6:19 (NIV)

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