It’s December in Durham, which means we have no idea what the weather is going to do from day to day. Right now, it might as well be May; tomorrow may feel like, well, December. Who knows. As I sat in our kitchen this morning, trying to decide whether or not to turn on the air conditioner, I saw a Facebook post from a friend showing that it was two degrees in Denver. Underneath, in smaller print, it said, “Feels like 18.” When I see a statement like that, I wonder who decided how eighteen degrees feel. Is it noticeably different from seventeen or nineteen?
Weather forecasting as always been an attractive career to me for one simple reason I remember my father articulating when I was in high school: “They get to be wrong everyday and they never get fired.” I am also old enough to remember George Carlin’s routine as Al Sleet, the “Hippy Dippy Weather Man.” At one point he says, “I imagine some of you were a little surprised at the weather over the weekend, especially if you watched my show Friday night, man. I’d like to apologize for the weather, especially to the residents of Rogers, Oklahoma; caught them napping.” And then there’s my favorite weather man, Phil Connor, who said, “You want a prediction about the weather, I’ll give you a winter prediction: it’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be gray, and it’s gonna last you the rest of your life.”
I suppose the weather forecasters in Denver this morning are on to something larger than they realize with their postulations: there’s the way things are and then there’s the way things feel. Two measurements, sometimes both accurate, each in its own way and different for most every person. A life colored by grief feels the world differently than a life colored by achievement or surprise; a life colored by joy feels the world differently than one colored by depression or despair. For some, these days are Advent. For others, they are short, cold, and dark.
One of the things they taught us early on in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) was to understand that “perception is reality” when we were dealing with patients and families in trauma. What I had to learn (OK, one of the things I had to learn) was I couldn’t fix their perception. I couldn’t tell them what the temperature was and make them warm up or cool down with my explanation of reality. I had to listen. I had to listen to see how cold they were, or how hot they felt and then take their word for their weather in order to know how to help. I had to learn my readings of life weren’t the only accurate ones.
The birth of Jesus is the story of God entering our weather, putting on skin to see what it feels like to be one of us, stepping out into the cold rather than simply reading the thermometer and offers us a model to follow. Ginger and I talked about her trip on the 2012 Freedom Ride this afternoon and one of the biggest things I heard in what she learned is how hard it is for us to listen to someone else’s weather report rather than telling them the forecast. People need to be loved way more than they need to be fixed or advised.
Even though we have been in Durham five years, my blood has not thinned. From the inside of my skin, people think the winter is far colder than it actually is (that is, on the days when it is actually cold). I lived up North long enough that I no longer remember how to survive a Texas summer, and those folks just keep right on going as though it’s “not that hot.” Whether we call it the wind chill or the heat index, how it feels to step out into the weather of life is not so easily quantifiable. If wewant to know what it feels like, we have to ask.
And then we have to listen.