So, which is it? What are we? Or, more specific, what have we become?
More enlightened? Intelligent? Proactive? Cautious? Caring? Careful? Respectful of the capabilities of the natural world...of Mother Nature?
Or are we weak? Spineless? Wimps? Are we raising a generation of wusses...a bunch of weenies?
After all, life-threatening cold and a wind chill that can freeze your skin in a couple minutes was just as life-threatening and skin freezing-capable 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago as it was around a week and a half ago, when basically every school district around these parts, and colleges, too, shut down for a couple days because of a cold snap the region hadn't experienced for years.
Maybe much of the reasoning behind shuttering essentially every educational provider in the region for two days was mostly about compensating for today’s teens and college students who rarely, if ever, dress properly for winter conditions. Sure, mom and dad go out of their way to bundle up their youngest children to the point that you’re not sure who’s encased in all of that heavy, thick apparel. But those rebellious, invincible adolescents? They don't want to be bothered with functional garments, they just want to look cool. And if one of those insufficiently garbed teens is driving somewhere and has car trouble or gets stuck in a ditch or for some other reason fails to reach his or her destination, things could turn south in a hurry. While most everyone is only a quick text, call or Snap away from summoning help, we're talking about cold that can injure or even kill an exposed person in especially rapid fashion, even someone dressed with a fraction of common sense in mind.
This is about safety, which should go without saying, but it’s also about managing risk. Cancel school, and you eliminate the risk that your students and staff would face as they travel to and from school and to and from sports practices and games. Cancel school, and the burden is off your shoulders. Cancel school, and no one can sue you if something tragic happens.
The fact that the school districts in Roseau and Warroad held classes on the nastiest day of the cold stretch gave some an opportunity to praise their tough-as-nails-ness, while shaming the wishy-washy, jiggling Jell-O mold decision-makers that called off school elsewhere. But did they really hold classes so the Warriors and Rams rivalry hockey game could go on as scheduled that night? They finished in a 2-2 tie, so everyone in both cities ended the coldest day in years by planting a big sloppy kiss on their sister. Hope it was worth it.
The thing about getting trapped less than ideally equipped in cold that can hurt or kill you is that failing to keep your composure, panicking and making irrational decisions is what can lead to your downfall. It's smart to stay put, to stay with your vehicle or wherever you are, but your mind races and the illogical becomes logical.
On that coldest morning, the idiot in me wanted to know just how cold it felt, so when I went to the driveway to start the pickup, I wasn't even close to being dressed properly. It was quite marvelous, to be honest, at first. Cold like that will make you feel alive about as much as a 90 degree, ultra-humid day will make you feel like you’re melting away in a slow, sweaty death.
The wind and air pounding my exposed lower legs and hat-less, mostly hairless head, it almost made me laugh out loud. I started the pickup, cranked up the heat and hopped out to unplug the cord from the block heater, glove-less. But the male and female ends of the cords would not separate, no matter how hard I pulled. After trying without success for around 30 seconds, I scurried to the closed garage door and huddled next to the concrete retaining wall that lines one side of our driveway to get out of the wind for a few seconds. I stood there, blowing on my cupped hands, then ventured out again to try and separate the cords. I pulled and pulled, then realized my hands and fingers were stinging something fierce, like nothing I could recall.
Finally, the genius in me realized that I wasn't going to prevail in this battle with the cords at this particular moment. I'd have to try again when I left for work in a little while and was properly outfitted with all of the outdoor winter apparel a person possessing average wits would wear.
So I ran up the steps and back in the house, then tried to act all nonchalant as my frozen extremities tried to thaw out so my wife wouldn’t feel compelled to state the obvious: That sometimes I’m pretty dumb.
Was my life at risk in my driveway? Was I at risk of getting some digits amputated? Certainly not. In fact, my example of surviving the cold despite my foolish behavior is plenty lame. And even the most simple-minded kid wouldn’t have walked to school wearing shorts and a t-shirt on either one of those two days.
But somewhere in my weak anecdote, there’s a lesson to be learned, a message to take to heart: If you want days off and you want to stay warm and toasty inside when the weather gets particularly cold and nasty, don’t work in the private sector.