This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday, hosted by Linda G. Hill. The prompt this week is “contrast.”
Earlier this week, I was walking from the parking lot to my job, buffeted by strong winds that lowered the “real feel” to the single digits. I was cold, and miserable. However, it was my own fault that I was cold, since I didn’t take the time to cover my neck with my scarf, pull the hood of my coat securely over my head, or find my warm mittens. I had the wherewithal to be warm, but not the time, or so I thought.
In the midst of my misery and self-pity, I remembered a piece I am plotting set in the 14th century. The contrast between my ability to stay warm and that of my characters is stunning. In 14th century Paris, one had a thick woolen mantle, a cape-like article of clothing, that would protect one from the cold, and woolen gloves and stockings. There were no waterproof boots, no Goretex mittens, and no down parkas. If it were rainy or snowy, the wool would become wet, despite the high lanolin content of homespun wool, making one wet in addition to cold.
Things didn’t greatly improve inside. Fires only reach so far into a room, and lack thermostats to keep interior spaces at a comfortable minimum. Stone buildings retained a chill, even when covered with tapestries to fight drafts, and glass windows were not common in most dwellings. The “common” folk lived in small spaces with many family members sharing a bed, which had to be a welcome source of warmth on cold nights. It makes me slightly ashamed to rail against the builder who constructed a house in upstate New York in 1960 without insulation. My uninsulated house would be a haven of warmth to my characters, and I try to feel grateful for what I have, looking at the half full glass–really a full glass, if I think about it.
One doesn’t have to go all the way back to the 14th century to see a contrast in our ability to stay warm. My father told stories of finding snow inside the window of the bedroom he shared with his brother on the unheated third floor of the house his parents shared with his uncle and aunt. I loved to hear him talk about the mad dash down the stairs to the heated bathroom to thaw before breakfast in the warm kitchen. He didn’t have a winter coat, but a thick wool sweater that repelled most of the snow and some of the cold on his walk to school.
Today I am sitting in front of my fireplace, claiming the warmest spot like a cat, musing on how easy it is to complain about what one does not have rather than to appreciate what one does have. I want to take the more difficult path of being grateful for what I have–even an uninsulated house–rather than concentrating on what I don’t have. For me, gratitude is more about the people I have in my life than the things, but it is worth remembering that my life is better and easier than it was for many previous generations. My writing, set in previous centuries, is good practice for keeping that in mind.