March 18, 2010
"What Does 45 degrees feel like"
The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
The answer to the question of what 45 degrees feels like is this: it depends.
This past week, here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the temperature broke the 45 degree barrier for the first time since last Fall. Winters can be long in Wisconsin, and so we were understandably ecstatic. Walkers and runners donned their shorts and we began searching our drawers for our sunblock.
As I was enjoying my run that day (in my shorts of course) an interesting question came to mind: why do we celebrate a 45 degree day in March, but complain about the exact same 45 degree day in October? If the two days are identical--sun is out, no clouds, and the same temperature--why do we experience them so differently?
The answer is probably obvious to all of us. A beautiful 45 degree day in the Fall announces that Winter is not far away. The same day in early March announces that
Spring and Summer are near. So it's not the day itself that makes a difference, but rather the narrative, the context, within which we place our experience of the day.
This got me to thinking (it was a long run last week) how true this iswhen it comes to other experiences in our lives in addition to the weather. Whenever we experience something, we immediately place it within a larger narrative, a larger context, that gives it meaning and therefore shapes the feelings we have about the experience. Here are a few examples:
Two older people move into the same retirement community--one sees it as full of new possibilities to meet new people and experience new activities, while the other sees it as the place you go to die.
Two couples are experiencing more arguing than usual--one sees it is as a sign that they need to make some intentional time to work on and grow their communication skills, the other sees it as a sign that the relationship must be coming to an end.
Two parents are dealing with their emerging two year olds, or emerging teens--one sees it as a challenging, but creative time of new identity formation for their child (and themselves), the other sees it as their child being defiant and escalates the tension to chronic angry power struggles.
Two people are experiencing a long period of wonderful, positive energy and events in their life--one celebrates this positive "flow," totally immersing themselves in the present moment, the other says to themselves, "I'm not going to let myself feel too good about things, because I'm sure there is bad news just around the corner."
So what does 45 degrees feel like? The feeling depends on the larger narrative you tell about what it means to be experiencing a sunny, 45 degree day. And so it is with all that we experience in life. Sometimes (not always, of course) we don't need to change our experiences, we simply need to expand and change our narratives.