Since making Chicago our home in June 2017, we've discovered two things about the weather. Gloriously mild summers share the stage with frequent breezes that slap you into reality in the winter. After all, this is the Windy City.
Unlike my home town, Detroit, where virtually everyone travels encased in cars, folks walk here. Sizzling or drizzling, snowing or blowing, people hoof it to work, to school, to the bus stop, or navigate stairs to ride the elevated train. And that reveals individual style and personal expression.
So when the temperatures climbed into the mid forties to end the third week in January, it was as if the whole town was unmasked. Chicagoans don't play when it comes to winter wear. Most look like bank robbers with faces bundled in scarves, ski masks and high collars that tickle nostrils. Suddenly, a few young dudes appeared in shorts. Mostly, I could see smiling faces as the streets were filled with strolling singles, couples hand in hand, seniors and juniors savoring the temporarily mild temps.
It's a welcome sight to take in a stranger's smile in the middle of winter. After the holiday season and the flu bug flexes its muscles, icy isolation can settle in as we hunker down in our caves and catch cabin fever.
This week, the international media widely reported the United Kingdom has a Minister of Loneliness, because some 9 million Brits feel frequently alone. That's nearly one of out six. In a Harvard Business Review article, Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General from 2014 to 2017, reported that loneliness in America is a health epidemic, with rates of isolation doubling since the 1980's to 40%. All this despite our hyper-connected, technologically addicted global society.
When everyone has a phone you'd think we'd feel more in touch. These days, marketing robocalls may be your most frequent friend.
Imagine if everyone with a phone took five minutes a day to call someone who's trapped in a prison of loneliness. Just five minutes to say, "Hi! How are you? What's new?" A text or e-mail is nice. But there's nothing like the sound of the human voice in our ears. They're designed to cradle the frequencies of laughter, tears, and words like "I care" and "I love you."
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a scholar of poverty, schooled by a lifetime of work drenched in the sweat of compassion for the poorest of the poor. She said, "In the developed countries there is a poverty of intimacy, a poverty of spirit, of loneliness, of lack of love. There is no greater sickness in the world today than that one."
The little nun in her blue-striped sari has been dead for more than 20 years, yet she foresaw the spreading germ of spiritual isolation.
The good news, it's a curable disease. It's time to take off your mask and smile at someone you don't know. Talk to someone who needs a companion. Listen to those who need their voices to be heard. It will melt the ice on your winter.