The Big Chill

“I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35 (New English Translation)

I have a new thermometer outside my front door. It is attached to a bird-feeder with 4 perches sure to attract “colorful” birds because that’s what the label on the bag of seed promised.

I’ve been opening my front door all day, to see what the temperature is. It has dropped from 21 to 19 to 10 and now stands firmly at 0. I’ve seen no birds on the perches, in the trees, or flying in the painfully crisp air. I threw my leftover bread out for them though, just in case one feathered friend faces the freeze to fend off hunger.

It’s a sad thought, the animals outside while the news continues to report on the severity of this historic Polar Vortex that has semi trucks sliding off the road; flights cancelled by the thousands; businesses and schools throughout entire cities closed.

Late last night, those of us living in the lower peninsula of Michigan received an emergency alert on our phones–an alarm with a message asking us to turn our heat down to 65 or less until Friday. It turns out a compressor station at Consumers Energy caught fire. This combined with the record-cold temperatures caused a natural gas shortage, increasing the risk of heat interruptions to both businesses and homes. With that one unexpected alarm, the risk of real danger to all of us increased. No one would last long in such perilous conditions if they were without heat. Not even those tucked safely behind closed doors, wrapped in warm blankets.

I turned down the heat.

Apparently, the emergency request worked. Consumers Energy issued a thank you today saying they would never know whether we cooperated with the plea or not, but they were grateful to everyone who had. I was proud to read it.

And still, we expect there will be more. The freeze is still with us. And so we wait, cautiously, wondering if everyone will be okay. As we wrap our water pipes in towels and turn our faucets on to slowly drip and call to check on friends and family who might need food or medications, there’s this one issue that keeps trying to creep into our minds, under our closed doors: what of those who are experiencing homelessness?

Monday we went to visit a brother who had been in an accident and needed some help. He’s just :30 away usually, but in these conditions, the time was doubled. Arriving home, weary and chilled, we found one of the guests who is currently staying in our Air BnB shovelling our driveway. He had come to Ann Arbor to help a friend bury her father. He insisted he could finish the drive and that we should go inside and get warm.

And I thought: This.

This is how it’s suppose to work. We take food to a friend and help raise his spirits that he might fight his way back to fine. While we are away, a stranger helping a friend through her grief shovels our walk that we might rest and get warm. It’s a chain linked by love.

It’s hard to reckon this divine plan of how we are able to care for one another against endless incidents of those who counteract the chain of love by attacking people they may or may not know because of the way they look, or who they love, or how they pray. On the darkest, coldest nights, it threatens to steal our hope.

I was thinking about this Monday, after our relatively easy mission of mercy. I sat inside and watched the snow fall, my hands cupped around a mug of hot chocolate. The flakes were the size of quarters and they fell quickly, as if they carried more weight than snowflakes ought to carry.

They were mesmerizing, these too-big snowflakes that seemed too-weighty and accumulated in drifts too big for life to carry on as usual. They reminded me of the majority of people in this world–souls with hearts too big, who carry troubles too weighty, and accumulate in corners near and far, clinging to one another, making life impossible to continue without noticing: we are better together. We will do with less heat, even in a polar vortex, if it means that more might never have to face having none. My prayer is that we might all, increasingly, have this commitment before an emergency alarm lights up our phones.

Love one another remains the plan. Despite those who work to foil it, it remains, the finest plan we have. And in action, it is a mesmerizing thing to behold:

People helping people helping people helping.