I cannot stand the cold.
Whenever I announce this — in a furious, despondent tone, typically — I am reminded by my friends that I am the son of a northern climate — that I came of age, like most of us, hoping each morning for the glory of a snow day. Trust me: this is irrelevant. It is a daily outrage to walk outside and feel the cold wind against my face, fighting my every step, working its way inside my coat and clothes and even my very joints. The long walk from Joyce Lot to Malloy Hall is, each and every morning, an argument to stay in bed.
I do not say this to complain. But the truth is that the cold has become, to me, more than itself. It has come to symbolize — no, embody — the whole force of winter, its darkness and duration and lack of college football. More, the cold has come to embody my frustrations, my regrets: in the whistling of the winter wind is every hour I have ever wasted, every opportunity I have ever missed, every excuse I have ever made. The wind carries on its breath the reminder of sullen compromises — of mediocre term papers, of overbearing bosses, of betrayed friends and lovers. It is the echo of struggle and failure, the chorus of all the girls who got away. It is everything malevolent in my life, all rolled into one.
I do not say this to complain: I have, to a certain degree, come to embrace the cold — to welcome it as a challenge, to see in it the opportunity to prove myself against all those failures that haunt my dreams. Every morning, when I wake and walk outside and feel the cold wind against my face, it is as though I have been given a second chance — to write that paper the way it should have been written, to embrace what that city had to offer, to tell that girl how I really felt about her. To get on that flight across the ocean. To be the son, friend, and lover that I should have been in the first place. Every morning, the cold wind whispers the promise that I can change it, that I can change all of it — that I can remake myself, if only I am strong enough to brave the South Bend winter.
I have said that the cold has come to embody everything malevolent in my life. This is a metaphor, but only barely: there are times when, walking through the frozen night, I have almost convinced myself that this redemptive possibility is more than delusion born of a nostalgic personality and Vitamin D deficiency — that, in looking winter in the eye, I really can make that qualifying time, really can write that novel, really can find the confidence to show kindness to those people back when it still mattered. That I can change all of these things, even though they are a decade past and more.
Obviously, this is absurd.
The hard truth is that the winter wind does not hold the promise of redemption. The regrets that haunt my dreams cannot be obviated by courage found after the fact, no matter how monumental. What is done is done — and what undone, undone. I am what I have made myself.
This is a hard lesson, and accepting it takes real courage. But there is a lesson yet harder: I am what I have made myself, but I have made myself what I am because of what I was. Regret is a deeply human thing — because regret is easy: how differently I would act, I tell the indifferent night, if only I had it all to do over again! But I know deep down that, if I really had it all to do over again — if I were really back there, burdened with the same naiveté and insecurities, the same hopes and fears — I would do it all exactly the same.
There are some philosophers who suggest that this realization makes regret easier to bear. I cannot for the life of me see how that could be. But it is, at any rate, the real lesson of winter.
It is easy to be happy in the summer — to run beneath the hot sun up the steps of the art museum, to reach the summit and pump both fists into the air. To race ahead of the past and its tireless regrets — to forget them, and live in the warm light of the present. But winter always comes again. To fight the cold on its own terms — to stare regret in the face, unblinking, and nonetheless to go on living — would be something like enlightenment. Winter offers it, if only I can find the strength to take it.
Daniel John Sportiello is in his second year of the Ph.D. program in philosophy. Listen to his radio show on WVFI every Sunday at 4 p.m. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.