I have noticed that when snow is in the forecast, it creates a unique level of anxiety among folks. It’s almost laughable. People want to know when it’ll start, how long it will last, how much will we get. Will the schools close; should they close; how bad will the roads be? Postponements and cancellations? Will we run out of milk or toilet paper? On and on.
Kids get excited. Parents have mixed feelings, as we try to deal with the quandary of what’s coming. Whether we welcome it or dread it, there’s anxiety and maybe excitement. I have also noticed our greyhound Willow isn’t fazed by the snow. She doesn’t “know” snow. Open the door, out she goes to do her business and then comes back in. No worries.
When I was little boy in Baltimore a long time ago, there were no weather forecasts. TV was in its infancy. The newspaper had a crude weather map. Almost always, snow came as a surprise. I vividly remember the times my dad would wake me in the morning and say, “Guess what? Look out the window. It’s snowing.” I would jump out of bed instantly lathered in joy. If the snow was coming down hard, there’d be no school. But just in case, my parents would turn on the radio and listen for school closing information.
Dad might have to put the snow chains on the tires to get to work. (Plowing didn’t happen.) The steps and sidewalk would have to be shoveled. For older kids that meant there was money to be made. Mom would dig out my black rubber snow galoshes with the metal clips along with double socks, a second shirt, mittens and earmuffs, out into the whiteness to find my friends. The day was mine until the sun went down.
Today, TV forecasters have become our gurus, like faith healers. For them it’s a peak moment. They are pumped and so are their viewers. Our preoccupation with weather is proven in the plenitude of weather apps that offer data and predictions far into future and all over the planet.
All this science and yet they sometimes get it grievously wrong, as we’ve seen with erroneous snow forecasts that cause schools to close needlessly.
So I wonder, what did our grandparents do long before all this technology? Clearly, they managed and simply lived with whatever happened. Sailors and farmers looked at the sky, sniffed the air, felt the wind and acted accordingly. If a summer rain arrived unexpectedly, my mother rushed out and pulled the laundry off the clothes lines.
At a more fundamental level, the Covid-19 pandemic is a perfect example of our determination to control natural forces that have the upper hand. Uncertainty has hung over us for two years. For scientists it’s been a moving target. As research advances, guidance has changed or even reversed. Our collective response has been confusion, frustration, fear and impatience.
This boils down to the human race’s incessant efforts to know the future. One reason for this, of course, there’s great wealth to be gained if you are good at predicting the future. Think stock traders, gamblers, tarot card readers and economists. (It’s not for nothing economics has been called the dismal science.) But the big reason is our need to have control over our lives — or, at least, feel like we do — to protect everything that is dear to us, to be able to plan our lives and avoid calamity.
There are some ironies here. As science, technology and medical advances have extended our life spans, shrunken the world, and created amazing efficiencies in our homes and workplaces, so have our anxieties swollen about losing these things. While we want cleverer and more efficient technologies, at the same time we get more frustrated and angrier when the slightest thing goes awry. And it often does. The snow doesn’t fall when it should, or it does when it shouldn’t. The battery on your car’s remote key dies, Amazon’s delivery is a no-show, your map app steers you wrong, passwords are lost or don’t work, unwanted emails, scams and spams intrude, and the ever-present risk of identity theft.
Have you left home without your cell phone? It’s means you’ve cut yourself off from your family, work associates, loved ones and pretty much the whole world.
Have you tried to get tickets for a sports event? It’s nerve wracking. Remember tickets you could hold in your hand and keep as souvenirs? They are gone. They only exist digitally on your phone. As for movie tickets, now we must select seats like we’re taking a flight to L.A. Have you tried to call your doctor lately, and have a live conversation with her or him? Remember when you could do that, and just go to their office?
My point is none of these problems and frustrations existed in my parents’ time or even when I was a young man. Life was tactile then. Now it’s all digital. You touched a thing and then you bought it. On meeting a person you touched hands, looked in their eyes and felt their aura. Things worked out. People coped.
It’s tempting to refer to the past as “simpler times” as though people were more innocent and naïve “back in the day.” But that would be wrong. Living has never been simple. People have always been complex, and society filled with tensions and disagreement.
The difference is that the digital world is confusing and complicated. Things that used to be easy to learn to do are no longer easy. A case in point. Last summer I decided to ditch our ISP and to change our email addresses we’d had since forever to save money. My advice? Don’t try this. Six months later, I am still trying to stamp out my old email. Like crabgrass it keeps reappearing. Our new TV access protocol still baffles my wife. There are hundreds of channels, but we only watch a couple dozen. Why does It need to be so hard? Who benefits from this?
This needless complexity is creating a gulf between the young and the old, between the well off and the poor, between those who access the digital world of computers, broadband, software, and apps and those who cannot because they are trying to feed themselves, pay the landlord and get medical care.
Don’t get me wrong. I think ATMs are wonderful. Put in a card, out comes money. It never errs. Credit cards are great too. It’s neat I can Facetime my son in France, and I can pay bills electronically. My car has 110,000 miles and it still runs like a top. (My dad traded in cars every two years.)
But what has it gotten us? In 2022 we have no more assurance about the future than did our forefathers. The Pandemic has reminded us that nature still rules. That we can take all the precautions, but know we are plain lucky to have escaped infection.
Global warming threatens us and suddenly, our planet Earth feels small and vulnerable. Climate change is an existential threat like nothing in my lifetime since maybe Khrushchev’s threatening atomic warheads in Cuba signified the end of the world.
We have epidemiologists, climatologists, stock and commodity brokers, financial planners, actuaries, insurers, pollsters, news analysts, historians, fortune tellers, diviners and astrologists — all telling us what may lie ahead and assigning probabilities and dates. We sure keep a lot of people of busy in our collective efforts to guarantee our tomorrows and build our expectations.
They all serve our purposes, I suppose. But in the final analysis, bad things happen, good things happen. We hug those we love, weep for those we cannot help. But ultimately, our dog Willow has it right. She doesn’t know it’s going to snow. If there’s snow, she pays little notice, and just goes out to do her business.
We need to do that too. It’s time to lighten up, accept what we cannot control.
Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but wanting to control it.Kahlil Gibran
Don’t worry, be happy.Bobby McFerrin