When Life Gets Cold

MindLetter post written by Dr Kitty Wheater.

Dear all,

I hope you soaked up the sun and warmth last weekend, and that this cold snap finds you cosy and well wrapped-up.

The Mindfulness Lunchtime Drop-in continues today, 1.10-1.50pm, upstairs in the Chaplaincy in Bristo Square. Join us for some grounding and replenishment, to re-anchor you at the end of this long week. If you can't join us today, you might like to try this Grounding and Releasing practice. 

In case you missed it, I wrote for Times Higher Education a couple of weeks back on A Trauma-Sensitive Approach to Teaching and Learning

For this week's MindLetter, I remember another cold snap...

Photograph of Arthur's seat in the snow.

When Life Gets Cold 

Many years ago, as a Masters student, I used to cycle round town in a big brown thick-knit coat. I needed it, because the cold in Oxford got under my skin in a way no Edinburgh chill ever has. In the Thames Valley, the cold is damp and viscous. It permeates your clothes and creeps into your bones. Fed by the river, molecules of freezing ice saturate the air, hugging the skin like a snow queen’s touch. Canadian friends said it was worse than the dry freeze of a mid-winter Toronto. 

I was always cold outdoors. I was cold in the morning and in the afternoon and at night. I was cold going to lectures, to the supermarket, to coffee with friends, coming home late from the library. I was cold on walks and bike rides. I complained about the cold, but mostly, I suffered it acceptingly. Cold was simply how life was, and I just had to wait until spring. 

Then, one wintery afternoon, I joined a friend for tea. I eased myself out of my coat and said, ‘God, it’s cold today.’ My friend looked at me and said, ‘I’m not surprised you’re cold. That’s not a coat.’   

I looked at my friend, and I looked at my coat. Then I looked at my friend’s coat. He wore a big down puffa jacket. I wore a big brown thick-knit…cardigan.   

How could I not have seen it before? My coat was not a coat. I had picked it up at a knock-off price in my late teens. It was a thick acrylic knit that went halfway to my knees, had handy front pockets, and a belt that I had long-since lost. I was fond of it. It looked good with jeans. But it was not a coat. It was a cardigan. 

Now, many years later, I think about all the months I spent shivering. I shivered because I was wearing a coat, and my coat was supposed to keep me warm, and if it didn’t, that simply meant I was destined to be cold. I think about how I just accepted it. I think about how it took a friend in a big down puffa jacket to point out that my coat was not a coat. 

These are some of the things we all, at one point or another, accept in life: cold, for want of a coat; friendship, without reciprocity; love, that does not make us feel loved; work, without dignity; governance, without fairness. These are part of life and they are also apart from it, because when we are in them, we feel outside of life itself. We split into as many pieces of ourselves as we need to muddle through. We bend as far and as deeply as we can to make our way round, like the river in the Thames Valley. Sometimes we get glimmers of what is in that other piece of ourselves, or what it would be like not to bend, and we stuff it back down out of sight. Sometimes we are so far removed from life itself that it takes us months or years to make our way back.  

And the moment of return may be very simple: it may be a day when we are so cold we can’t breathe, or a friend turns to us and says, I think you need something else.   

The next time I went back to my parents’ house, I dug out an actual coat from a storage bag in the loft. It was wool, and lined. The sleeves were too short, and it had big boxy shoulders from the eighties. But I got a pair of wrist-warmers, and the shoulders allowed for a proper jumper underneath. For the first time in months, I was warm outside. 

I kept my cardigan for a while. I wore it when the weather eased a little, and I wore it over pyjamas to wander around the house. But I didn’t wear it outdoors in the winter, because for outdoors in the winter you need a coat, not a cardigan. Some years later, it went to the charity shop. I don’t even remember exactly when, or to which charity shop. I had simply outgrown it; it was no longer for me. And now I look back and think – a thick-knit brown acrylic cardigan? Really? And I laugh.  


Keep snug and warm this weekend.

Warm wishes


A close up photograph of a blue cardigan with a brown button.