By Cathy Hird

As humidity sets in this week, I remember last winter, how often the bouncing temperatures caused rain to fall on snow. The white accumulation would absorb water, and then when the temperature fell again, it would turn so hard we could walk across the top. No footsteps would mark the icey surface.

The up and down temperatures also caused bouts of freezing rain. Water falling from heavy clouds encrusted the car antenna in ice. On the paths and roads, the accumulation became hazardous. On windows, the layers turned the glass into a wall no one could see through.

Driving was dangerous on these days. Walking was a challenge. The worst was a day in March when rain should have--in this gardener's opinion--loosened the ground for a new year's growth. Instead, hard layer after hard layer enclosed the world.

Watching the hard crust thicken, I got to thinking. Words thrown at a loved one in anger can do the same thing. Hard impatient words push the other away. Annoyed descriptions cause another to build a thick crust of protection. Like the ice covered window, our loved one cannot see us because words build a hard covering that keeps us apart, keeps the issues we might have talked about hidden.

In a group, we may think we are offering constructive criticism, but sometimes we do not watch the way we speak. Sometimes the circumstance makes us impatience, and the words cut deeper than intended. Like rainfall that should open the ground, words that might unpack an issue get frozen solid, create a protective crust, so that breaking open the problem requires a pickaxe. But pickaxes hurt, we need a thaw to take down the barrier before the issue can be approached.

Habits become hardend too. Each day, we get up on the same side of the bed, begin a routine that orients us to the day. When we put in place a pattern of waking, eating, and cleansing that works, we get going in a way that sets us on track.

Not all our habits orient us well, however. Perhaps, our pattern is to hit the snooze button two too many times. We always end up rushing. We have coffee rather than healthy food. We are running late, so we forget to feed the cat, take out the garbage, pick up the things we absolutely need to have with us. Driving away from the house, we tell ourselves to get out of bed ten minutes sooner. But habits are hard as ice. As fragile as an icicle if we actually break it off, but more solid than a promise made in passing can change.

Other habits are even more fixed. The first smoke may be innocent. A drink opens a social occasion. But when stepping outside for a smoke happens again and again, kicking the habit is like banging your toes against a solid block of ice. The fifth beer relaxes the body, looses the tongue like rain falling on snow on a warm day. The pattern repeated freezes into place. Breaking addictive habits needs repeated commitment the way melting a winter's accumulation of snow and ice requires the arrival of consistent warm temperatures.

In a society, habits become something like laws. Common practice can become a kind of hegemony, an expectation that this is the way things must be. They solidify like a winter that refuses to go away.

In North America culture, people greet with a hand shake. On first meeting, people are judged based on their hand: warm, firm, limp fish, cold, reluctant. In South Asia, people greet each other by pressing hands together. In Japan, hands are lowered, and the people bow. South Asians who have lived here awhile have adapted, but visitors and newcomers hesitate to touch. When a North American puts their hands together rather than reaching out, the gesture is greeted with an appreciative smile. A bowed head offered to a person from Japan is noted. The willingness to thaw our own cultural norms can open relationship in new ways.

In the temperatures this week, ice cubes melt in a moment. But the encrustations on a life, the accumulation of hurt or anger, habit or tradition, these do not thaw without effort.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.




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