February 15, 2021

Once More, Unto the Cold

This morning, I gazed out the window at the black and white landscape. Cleared, asphalt-gray roadways curved through a carpet of accumulated snow. Freezing rain hovered in a grim, gray, clouded sky.

I must go outside to face the weather, I told myself, or else I will wither inside. Be brave, I said. Wear a mask. Wear a buff. Wear the snowpants your husband bought you last year to inflate your courage.  This sort of talk may be unnecessary for some, but for me, winter is difficult. I was born cold. The mere thought of subjecting my skin to the shock of a chill winter wind makes me shake.

Here’s the rub, though: science says that I am colder than I’ve ever been, and so are you.

What we think of as the norm: 98.6 Fahrenheit, is no longer the norm. A German physician, Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich, published that initial finding more than 150 years ago, in 1868.

 In a study published in early 2020, Stanford University researchers found that our body temperature has been dropping for some time. They posit that changes in the environment have forced physiological changes in the human body.

I know this sounds ominous. I know this sounds as though, just as climate change has melted the icecaps and spawned horrific floods, draughts, earthquakes and eruptions, our bodies are reacting to the planet’s agonies. I know this sounds as though the Ice Age awaits.

And it may well be waiting. But in this case, our bodies are reacting to positive changes. For one,  a decrease in inflammation: we eat a little better. And that stench your relatives smelled in 1868 is gone: we use better hygiene than our forebears. Along with that, our houses are heated in a measured way, which helps the body more easily heat itself.  Although the Stanford researchers failed to offer a new standard, a recent study of 25,000 British patients found their average temperature to be 97.9.

This gave me new fodder for avoiding the cold outdoors: my body temperature is lower. I, born cold, am now even colder.

But we’re talking less than one degree here. I acknowledge that mine is a weak argument. The better argument is for bravery. Exercise gives us endorphins. Endorphins make us happy. In the discontent of winter, happy is a coveted commodity.

So I pulled on my snowpants, zipped up my down coat, strapped on my mask and picked up my snowshoes. Stepping outside, momentarily shocked by the blast of bitterness of this winter’s day, I  inhaled the warmed air from my mask and adjusted my buff.

I was ready.

 I ventured forth, into the cold.

On seeking courage:

King Henry in Shakespeare’s “Henry V”:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Or close the wall up with our English dead.

In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man

As modest stillness and humility:

But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

Then imitate the action of the tiger;

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;

Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;

Let pry through the portage of the head

Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it

As fearfully as doth a galled rock

O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,

Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.

Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,

Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit

To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.

Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!

Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,

Have in these parts from morn till even fought

And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:

Dishonour not your mothers; now attest

That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.

Be copy now to men of grosser blood,

And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,

Whose limbs were made in England, show us here

The mettle of your pasture; let us swear

That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;

For there is none of you so mean and base,

That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,

Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:

Follow your spirit, and upon this charge

Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

For the purposes of this blog, think of the last time you had to summon your courage. Write a short note about that, more if you’d like. When you are done, read it aloud to yourself.  If you are a Candlelight Writing Workshops participant, send it to me. I’d like to read it.

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