Previously Published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch
This is the first year I have used the internet on my phone. Taking advantage of the novelty, friends are introducing me to the apps they love. My husband prefers TelegramX for communication. Anything to get a response, says I.
The program has been useful, like leaving a voicemail without the long automatic introduction or using a walkie talkie. With it, I correspond daily with a Minnesotan my friend.
During the notorious Arctic Blast we Californians only read about, she sent me a screenshot to show me their forecast. -20, windchill of (meaning feels like) -49. According to the news, if she stayed outside for more than a few minutes she could have gotten frostbite. There were accidents on the freeway as sudden gusts swirled the snow around in a white-out.
Meanwhile, here in the Central Valley, our temperatures moved above 60 degrees. The sun came out. The rain slowed down. Pink flowers pushed aside the wood chips of my desolate yard and promised spring.
My children rushed to the front yard to play and bike whilst I sat with a cup of afternoon Joe and the latest issue of Magnolia Magazine. Neighbors began to pass by again. It has been a cold winter for California.
Meanwhile, my friend read Ramona to her girls and Ella Enchanted to herself by the fireplace, wishing her car would have started so they could have bought more eggs, but grateful to live in a townhouse where the heating bills are low.
The same day. The same country. Connected and communicating over technology. Yet, we are worlds apart.
“You don’t have to tell me every time you say it’s cold that you know it isn’t cold like Minnesota. I’ve lived in warm places. I know how it is,” she finally said. I was chilly because life in Northern California has led me to forget how to dress appropriately for winter. PG&E rates keep me from setting the thermostat as high as I would like it.
Perhaps I expected her to roll her eyes if I said it was cold or to retort, “that’s not cold!”
Perhaps I thought she might feel resentful like I was rubbing our California warmth in her face.
But instead, she acknowledged that we live in different climates, and so, acclimate differently. A Californian need not demonstrate the Minnesotan hardiness in winter. We can do that this summer.
We seem to go under or overboard in acknowledging that we cannot understand the experience of the other. How can I call it cold here when I speak to someone in the tundra? I overcompensate. Or I hush and stop sharing altogether. My suffering is not like her suffering.
Then what happens? The bridge weakens from lack of use, from weathering without fulfilling its potential. I lose the habit of divulging life’s in’s and out’s. She will not understand.
But she did understand. And she told me so. I kept on sharing. She listened to my messages about the warm weather and felt happy for me. I listened to her messages about baking and having AAA tow her car. I asked questions to learn more about how one manages the mishaps of an Arctic Blast. She asked me questions about almond crops.
We kept up the communication, kept up the messages, as we do: sharing news, sharing complaints, discussing ideas. In different places, but still meeting on that bridge. Silent on some days, finding that golden mean Aristotle was so fond of: not too much, not too little, but just right.
We are capable of understanding. I can imagine your suffering. Because I am human, because I have a brain, because I can ask questions to fill in the gaps. I may not be able to imagine how I might act in it. Maybe I should set the thoughts about myself aside when I probe. Instead, I can form the image of what you endure.
And then what happens? California’s temperatures drop. Minnesota’s temperature’s rise. There is snow on the foothills. There are flurries in Minnesota. We share in the delight of one of nature’s strangest gifts. Had we drifted when our experiences diverged, we could not have shared the joy when meeting again on the bridge.