Keeping warm

Chaplain’s Cornerwhitman padre

Padre Andrew Whitman

It’s Cold. So cold I dread leaving the nice warm ice-rink to go outside.
The other morning, I left my keys in the office door for a minute to plug in my car and grab my bag, and the temperature plummeted to -40°C before I got in the door. As though the air itself rushed in to warm its frostbitten hands around the hearth fire of my pocket-temperature keys, and sucked the meagre warmth from them in seconds.

As a recent immigrant from the (by comparison) balmy Maritimes, my car was not prepared for this cold. Even though I bought it a nice new block heater, and got the right winter-flex extension cord (with a light to assure that the power is, in fact, on), nevertheless, the hydraulics have led a mutiny. First, the tailgate deserted, refusing to open in the morning – here’s me stuffing my hockey bag through the side door. Next, the windows; after deceptively sliding down to let me flash my pass to the bundle of clothing that presumably contains a commissionaire, my window defies orders to return to its upward post. Finally, despite being plugged in all day at the office, I make a brief stop on the way home to pick up milk, and when I come back? Bam! The power steering has joined the resistance. I muscle my way home, park the family car out in the cold and park mine in the garage for a few hours in hopes of thawing hostilities and opening negotiations.

As a chronic procrastinator, I have observed that it is better to turn the car on early to let it warm up, than to come out just when you need to be leaving and have to attack the windows with a scraper. (More accurately, I have observed that it is worse to do the latter, and I hypothesize that it would be better to do the former). Sure, if you leave it to the last minute, it will (usually) work, but not as well as if you let it warm up first.

It occurred to me once that this is a metaphor for dealing with conflict, whether it’s conflict in marriage, relationship or work, for example. Conflict, like the bitter cold of winter in Cold Lake, seeps into relationships, frosting over our vision, gumming up the works, making the flexible brittle, and just generally making it impossible to move forward.

Now, sometimes, you need to jump into a frozen car and drive – if there is a crisis and you just don’t have time to warm it up. So you grab a sharp object and hack at the icy windshield. You can see through it, but it ain’t pretty, and it looks like it’s just been through a war.

Sometimes you need to hit conflict head on and deal with the consequences. But it is always better to warm up the car first if you have time. Clausewitz famously wrote that war is the extension of politics by other means. It is a last resort. The first resort is to try to resolve conflict peacefully. And as “all is fair in love and war”, the same is true of relationships:

resolve the conflict before it comes to yelling and backstabbing. Hindsight will show, I think, that the vast majority of conflict was predictable, and we should have started warming the car 10 minutes earlier if we weren’t procrastinators like me. Even better if you keep it in the garage where it stays warm. Yeah, it costs to build and to keep it heated, but it’s worth the investment.

I’m happy to say that (so far), my car has warmed up to my overtures. The battery has been loyal throughout, despite its bitter struggle. The power steering seems to have returned to duty without a fight, though the tailgate and the windows are insisting on an appropriate work/rest cycle. I’m hopeful we’ll make it through the winter.