Stay warm

Fire on Lutsen Mountain. Credit: Photo by Jim Walsh

On the coldest night of the Minnesota winter so far, as some God-avenging assassins 4,300 miles away in Paris were about to kill the bodies if not spirits of a bunch of alternative journalists, the likes of which all over the world have always been counted on to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and champion weird people, ideas, art, music, books, politics, spirituality, and lives, I waited in line at the counter of a gas station on 46th & Nicollet, when I heard the pretty blonde Lutheran-looking female customer and handsome brunette Middle Eastern-looking male clerk exchange a parting shot that, hear ye hear ye, is all the rage here in frozen tundraville.

“Stay warm.”

“You guys,” I said, as the woman turned for the door, and I let it be known that I’d been counting the times I’ve heard strangers and loved ones use “stay warm” in place of “goodbye” or “take care” over the last few weeks and no, I said, it’s nothing new, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s happening and I am encouraged by any trend where random people are randomly kind to one another.

Ice broken, the customer and the clerk asked what my “stay warm” count was and I said I’d lost track, it was so damn many times.

We all had a laugh, the woman and I exchanged “stay warms,” I paid for my Mountain Dew, and the clerk and I exchanged bright eyes, big smiles, and “stay warms.” As I walked away, a tiny Ethiopian-looking woman who’d been standing silently behind me in line approached the counter, chuckled and said, whimsically and in a voice just above a whisper, “and now you have to count two more ‘stay warms.’”

We all had another laugh and I told her, yes, so I did and so I would and we all had another laugh and another round of “stay warms” as I hit the door.

It was a silly sitcom, I swear; a big beautiful bunch of coincidences as far as I or even the most mystically trained could tell; not exactly anything to write home much less a column about — until I got back in my car and turned on the ignition in the dark frigid night and, yes, out of the dashboard comes the sound of The Current’s Mary Lucia telling everybody how brutally cold it is and signing off with the message for the mess age:

“Stay warm.”

The day after the shootings in Paris, the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof used the word “otherise” in describing how we treat one another nowadays; i.e. our practice of making enemies and boxing-in strangers based on snap judgments, skin color, politics, religion, sports, etc. The same day, The Onion succinctly summed up the collective soul-suckery that has become our daily bread and news feed: “Mankind Tired of Having to Remind itself of Good In World.”

This just in: “Minneapolis Man’s “Stay Warm” Research Suggests Humanity Not Quite on the Ropes.”

True story. Time and again I’ve heard the, yes, warmth in people’s voices, and with every exchange on display has been the sort of kindness, caring, and connection that proves there’s another side of humanity, another way to go, and that people instinctively desire to feel the oneness and love that comes with being part of the human race.

“Stay warm” is a concrete participation in that simple communion.

Since just before Christmas, I’ve heard it repeated over and over, from the mouths of babes and grumpy old men alike; from the barista at Studio 2A, from the dude holding the door for me at the 331 Club, from the doorman at First Avenue, from the guy who gladly accepted my “stay warm” and volleyed back his own “that’s the spirit,” to any number of the rest of the cold huddled masses of Minnesotans yearning to be free of another six months of sub-zero solitude.

Now trending, with a bullet and the hashtag #staywarm, because the world is cold and because telling a stranger to stay warm not only suggests you feel their pain and encourages both outer and inner warmth, it promotes a decided “we’re all in this together” pioneer spirit. “I got you, I got this, hang in there,” we’re saying to one another and, with a bellows of the soul, poking encouraging pokes at the very embers of our hearts.  

It’s beautiful, really, and maybe even necessary to the survival of the species — because if last winter is any measure, we’ll need “stay warm” and all the variations of same we can muster this winter, including “stay thirsty,” “stay hungry,” “stay curious,” “stay safe,” “stay free,” and my friend Nic’s favorite, “stay hard.” Me, I’m sticking with “stay warm” — left up to personal interpretation for all, as we and we alone get to decide what or who best keeps us warm — and the good news is that the “stay warm” tsunami is spreading.

I write this from the gorgeous desolation of Lutsen Mountain, one of the coldest places on the planet, where my “stay warm” sources include the resort reservations clerk, who reports that he exchanges the mighty mantra with “two out of every five” guests checking in, and the owner of the Lockport general store, who confirms that her customers coming off Hwy. 61 employ “stay warm” “the majority of the time” and that it’s special because it only happens for a short window, a “seasonal” salutation that in a few months will once again be displaced by “take care,” “later,” and “stay cool.”

I knew it! People are good! Random acts of kindness rule!

“Stay warm,” she said with a wink, as icy Lake Superior howled outside her window, and so I did. 

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected]