It’s a nice winter – but it’s still winter. I mean, this morning the low was only 24 degrees. Above zero. So that is pretty mild for a Wednesday in December. I do have a website that lets me look into the future, weatherwise, and it looks like we are going to be devoid of snow until about December 20. At that point through Christmas, we are in for about 6 inches of the white stuff over a number of days, so that’s not too bad, and the temperatures – until December 26, should be reasonable. It’s not that you need the forecast for Fargo over the next month, but I’m trying to put things in perspective, especially for those of you who might be shivering since it has gotten down to the 30s in your southern world. Anytime we get above freezing at this point is a celebration!
Back in the 80s, when it seemed any day between November 1 and April 1 was a trip to the Star Wars ice planet of Hoth, the way we coped with it was to make sure we had block heaters installed in our cars. A block heater is simply that – a heater that somehow warms the engine block so the oil and all the other parts can actually move. That’s of course very helpful when you are trying to get an engine to start. I remember always having an extension cord in the trunk or back seat, and whenever I would stay overnight at a hotel, I’d “plug in the car.” Literally, there was an electric plug that would hang out of the front grill, and I’d plug it into the extension cord, and then run the other end to one of a series of electrical outlets that hotels and other places would provide, and just have the poor car stay a bit warmer than absolute zero for the night. It usually worked. I do remember one retreat, however, out in the country in January, where we had about 55 pastors staying at a convent. Nice retreat, but the night before we all were to leave, the temperature dropped to -38. The next morning, every single battery in every single car was dead. We were able to commandeer the convent pick up truck that had been parked in the warm garage, and jump started a battalion of clergy cars.
One more thing about the block heaters: it was a matter of cultural character to make sure no one messed with anyone else’s extension cord. There was no way to lock the cord, or to make sure it would stay plugged in, so we had to trust each other that, one, no one would steal your cord, and two, no one would unplug your car in order to plug theirs in instead. Yes, on occasion an offense would occur, but you would be able to trace it back to someone who was not from this part of the country. At least, that’s what we always believed.
Fast forward about 40 years, and we have moved into a different technology in terms of warming up freezing cars. The remote start. Now, for sure, the remote starts existed way back when, even during the time of block heaters, but the cost was beyond the capability of an average human. There were also a few issue with remote starts back then. First, they were not dependable. You probably had a 50-50 chance of the start actually working, and often it meant you had to be in a visual path of the car. It was pretty funny to watch the remote start showoffs trying to start their cars on those frigid mornings, and some would have to actually walk outside, to about 15 feet from their car in order for it to start. Kind of defeats the purpose, don’t you think? The other thing about the remote starts is that they often would shut off on their own, and the batteries in the little start fobs would last about 3 days. Finally, it really was kind of a fancy show-off piece of technology – no where near as honest as plugging your car in.
Today, however, a lot has changed. All four cars in and around our garage have remote starts. This morning I sat in my office inside my home, and simply pushed the start button, and then watched as the little screen told me I was victorious over the cold temperatures, and my car was warming up, getting ready for me to take Cheri to work. Apparently, my remote can start my car up to a mile away. I didn’t get the one that uses my smart phone, which would allow me to sit in Fargo, and start my car down in Key West, Florida – if I ever needed to. However, it is a wonderful thing, and it helps push back the burden of at least one part of life. Bring it on, Winter – I’m ready for you!
I’ve been thinking about some other parts of my life that could use a convenience of some sort. There are times I wish I could just have an automatic, microwaving morning shower, so I wouldn’t have to go through all the stuff involved in moving from unclean to clean. How about one of the Jetsons’ meal makers, where you just push a button, and out pops a hot, perfectly prepared meal, with no prep or clean up necessary. I could use a gas tank filler-upper, so I wouldn’t have to leave the house, or even a car washer, that again, could pop up from my driveway and take care of it all. Oh – an auto window washer to take care of our home in the winter. Or an auto-storage room straightener upper. That would be great.
Yes, all I’m writing does bring me right to the edge of possible laziness, but I’m just dreaming. I can’t think of anyone who would say, “I wish I could lead a harder life, with more struggles, more efforts needed – more things that have to get done.” Granted, our 21st century American “burdens” don’t include having to walk five miles to get water out of a well, and then carry it back home, or foraging for food somehow, or trying to keep my children alive until they become adults.
I believe, however, that our human condition dreams of a better time, a better way to live, and a more meaningful life when we do so. I guess in one sense, if we were to provide all the easy things, that sooner or later, we would lose our lives, or at least lose the meaning and strength of living abundantly. Even as babies, we strive and struggle to learn how to walk, to become more independent, than just waiting for the world to wait on us.
So, give me my remote start, and I will intend a much more involved life for the rest of it – oh, and my tv remote? And my automatic thermostat, and… at least I am typing this column all by myself… sort of…
Word for the day: firtle. Pronounce like it looks: FIR-tul. This isn’t a word that has a glorious ancient past, or is full of intrigue and careful evolution. It really is a colloquial term that still is something we could use today. It arose out of the Cumbrian area of northwest England. Cumbria is perhaps the least-populated county in England, and so with that extremely rural taste came bits of language that were its own. Sort of like “oof-dah” up here in the Dakotas. It means – well, it’s what you say when someone says something significant, like “Ole fell asleep at the wheel and drove his car right into the sewage pond.” Oof-dah.
Anyway, “firtle” is a Cumbrian expression meaning “to fidget, or move around aimlessly.” Firtling means you look busy, despite really accomplishing nothing – just wasting time… Teenage boys are experts at firtling, when it comes to having to get a job done. Stop firtling around!
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.