Every morning Aunt Betsy sends me an email, the topic of which is lead by an update of the weather. “It’s sunny today, but very cold. I’m going to play bridge at 2 o’clock with so-and-so and will have to dress warmly…” “Good morning. It snowed last night. I will have to call Earl and have him come shovel the walkway today…” First, I’d like to give Aunt Betsy big props for using modern technology to communicate with me. It has provided an efficient way for us to stay in touch, and it also allows her to communicate regularly with my children in a manner that is familiar and convenient to them. They email her back and keep her up to date with school projects and life events – something that likely wouldn’t happen as regularly if it were by telephone or snail mail.
When my parents retired to New Hampshire in their mid 60s, my father made a point of keeping a daily weather journal, the point of which, according to my mother, was to prove to the IRS if ever questioned, that despite still owning property in Massachusetts, they were in fact New Hampshire residents, and had spent more than the requisite number of days in the Granite State to allow them to be taxed at a lower rate.
His initial entries included the temperature upon rising, notes about rain or snow or sunshine, wind, if any, etc., and perhaps a comment about the coming day forecast. I noticed as the weeks and months and even years wore on that the journal continued, and that conversations over cocktails or at the dinner table began to focus on the actual weather itself. Granted, New England is legendary for it’s weather, and the proximity of their house to Mt. Washington, home to some of the most extreme weather on the planet provided great fodder, but there was something more deliberate and intricate about Dad’s weather journal and his ensuing conversations.
As we age things go wrong with our bodies when we least expect it. We tear ligaments or develop arthritis or get diagnosed with more catastrophic illnesses, seemingly through no fault of our own. Sometimes it just happens, and we transition from a reasonably healthy being to one plagued by maladies as quickly and unpredictably as the weather changes.
The weather is an easy and neutral topic. It is what it is – we have no control over the weather (debates about global warming not withstanding,) and you don’t have to pick sides or be informed about issues the way you would in a political debate. On the other hand, discussing one’s health is a very personal and intimate topic. By revealing the details of your health you are exposing something akin to your own vulnerability. Our changing health and wellness, seemingly beyond our control, can be as overwhelming as the arrival of an intense snowstorm or hurricane; as frightening as an earthquake or a tornado.
I think my father found a sense of peace and stability in recording the weather in his journal. It was real, tangible, and served as a marker for other unpredictable things in his life, like his diminishing hearing or his crippling arthritis. Writing about the weather and talking about the weather gave him an outlet in which he could channel his incredulity at what was going on in his internal and external environment. And I think in some ways Betsy’s daily mention of the weather is the same. Noticing what is going on around her is a check in of sorts. Marking the weather she marks her personal changes – feeling tired, feeling confused, feeling better – and in noting the weather it anchors her routine and reminds her to stay focused in the moment.
Moreover, I think the weather provides a foundation or base camp from which they can pace their days. To some degree we all take comfort in our habits and patterns, but in this fast paced and uncertain world, a regular routine is like an old friend to an elderly person. It is the marker that can be used to measure any deviation – a delayed trip to the market because of snow the previous evening – or the consistency of knowing that book club or bridge group will take place, uninterrupted, and as scheduled.
Ironically, Betsy’s daily pronouncements about the weather have become for me a litmus test as to her mental and physical condition. As long as she tells me what’s going on outside, I know everything is OK on the inside.