A pivotal, defining moment: It must have been early 1977, middle of the winter. When I
say winter, I mean WINTER. We get temperatures in the minus 30s and even 40s – it doesn’t matter whether that’s Fahreinheit or Celsius – it’s just cold. I had moved from Mississauga to Thunder Bay with my 4 year old son, John.
Somehow I had thought that because it was a smaller town I’d be able to get a better place to live for less and have more opportunities. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it turned out to be true, eventually, but it sure wasn’t the case when I first arrived. I was living in a one bedroom upstairs flat with no private entrance. The owner, who lived downstairs, worked nights and he was very grumpy if John even walked around on the bare floors during the day.
I had no friends in Thunder Bay and it turned out that everyone in town knew everyone else and had known them since birth, so breaking in and making new friends, especially when you were not employed and on welfare, was not easy. I know I sound like I’m whining and to be honest, I think I did at lot of that at the time.
John had just started junior kindergarten and every day I walked him to school. It was just a couple of blocks but since I didn’t have warm clothes it felt like miles.
I wore layers. I know that’s what you’re supposed to do when it’s cold, but layers of summer pants? Layers of tee-shirts? All topped off by an ankle-length baggy sweater. I wore running shoes because I had no boots. I used socks for gloves and I was pretty pleased that they were the same color at the sweater. They almost looked like matching gloves.
I was just plain unhappy and I was pretty darn sure I’d made a huge mistake in moving to Thunder Bay but I couldn’t go home with my tail between my legs. Everyone in Toronto had told me I was nuts and I didn’t want to admit it.
My pivotal moment happened one morning after I had dropped John off at school and I was catching a bus to go and visit my mum. It was one of the minus 30 mornings and it was just horrible. I stood at the bus stop in my long sweater, running shoes and layers of thin pants and shirts, shivering and thinking ‘poor me’ thoughts. The wind was howling and I thought I was literally freezing to death just like the stars of my favorite childhood stories, the Poor Little Match Girl and Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince. I wish I could add even more melodrama by telling you I was splashed by a car or that it started pouring down freezing rain on me, but it was just too damned cold for that. Nope, I just stood there, shaking, all hunched over and starting to feel like I was seizing up.
At one point I thought, “I can’t stand this anymore.” I started to cry. And then, never being one to pass up the opportunity to add some drama, I raised my fist (inside my sock), to the sky and declared (very quietly so no passerby would hear), “As God is my witness, I will never be cold again!” ala Scarlett O’Hara.
Well here I am thirty-four years later and what do I have to show for my fist to the sky declaration? Well, besides more winter coats and boots than I really need, I have a great deal to show for it. That turned out to be one of my really low points and I’ve found that sometimes sitting in a gutter wallowing for a while, drinking a bottle of whine, listening to country music and crying, is just what I need to kick-start me. As long as I don’t sit there too long.
Shortly after that cold morning, I started taking the first hesitant steps to a new life. I went to a local clothing bank and got a real coat. I registered at the local college. I applied for a new apartment in a real apartment building. I borrowed $500 and bought a car and then I got my licence. Wow, a few months later my future looked so bright I had to wear shades!
Of course, it wasn’t all up hill from there, in fact, my life has had more ups and downs than a roller coaster. But I have learned a thing or two since that frigid morning at the bus stop.
- I’ve learned that when you think you can’t stand it anymore, you probably can. After all the bus didn’t miraculously appear immediately after I said I couldn’t stand it anymore.
- I’ve learned that sometimes feeling desperate is exactly what you need to get you moving. It’s too easy to sit in one place when you’re comfortable.
- I’ve learned that movement, even tiny steps, is sometimes all it takes. Once you start taking action, it seems the Universe moves towards you and takes your hand.
- I’ve learned that even when you feel like you have no choice, you still do. You have the choice of staying where you are and feeling lousy, or doing something, anything, to move you from where you are to where you want to be.
- I’ve learned that you have to have a vision of what you want your life to be. My vision was that I would never be cold again. Okay, okay. Now I know I should have phrased that in more positive terms like “I will always be warm.” Whatever! It worked.
- I’ve learned that you might have to work really hard but when you look back you won’t even remember that; all you’ll remember is the satisfaction, the pride and the rewards you received for the effort you put in.
- Oh yeah, and finally? I’ve learned that sometimes even when you achieve your goal, you still have to revisit the original pain, perhaps to remind you of your pivotal moment.
Almost every day this winter, I have stood and shivered, layered in coats – I’m not kidding, I wear a fleece, a Gore-Tex coat, and a great big down coat over it – at the off-leash dog park while my dog runs around and wrestles with other big hairy happy creatures. One day I even had to resort to wearing socks on my hands because Charley, my dog, had eaten one of my mitts.
The difference is, now I know the cold is temporary. Just like I know that bad times are temporary. I’ve been down before and I got up. Next time I’m down, I’ll get up again.