I’m Cold, Yossarian

The cold front the weather monsters promised has not disappointed. I realize that the 50s is very tame compared to the blustery chill we can expect in December and January, but given the 70s and 80s we’ve experienced the last few weeks, today puts me very much in touch with something very real. For inherent in the cold is a palpable reality, something that comes close to romantic although not in the sense we normally understand “romantic,” but in the sense of deep and profound pathos, in the sense of a deeper understanding of those things around us and an anticipation of something to come.

The final moments of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 chronicle the death of Snowden who, after catching flak during a WW2 bombing run, slowly loses consciousness as John Yossarian comforts him. Over and over Snowden tells Yossarian, “I’m cold. I’m cold. I’m cold.” Every time I feel cold against my skin my memory takes me back to these pages of Catch 22—the most bizarre, random, and absurd novel I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a bunch of John Irving and Kurt Vonnegut books, just for the record).

Amidst all this absurdity and the many laugh-out-loud moments ring Snowden’s last thoughts: “I’m cold. I’m cold. I’m cold.” It’s a brilliant juxtaposition, really, in that in life we have moments of euphoria and moments of pain. Across our many days we’ll experience seasons of prosperity and loss in unequal parts—and somehow all of this works toward some good. At the same instance the fictitious Snowden conjures images and recollections of paradise lost, I am also reminded of an Eden that is yet to come. Tragically, this is something neither Joseph Heller nor John Yossarian ever realized. Instead, each is left with Yossarian’s feeble reassurances: “There, there.”

Yes, we are supposed to enjoy the moments in the sun. But that’s only half of the deal we have implicitly made with reality. We are also called to endure the sunless months of life during which we are anything but dormant. It’s during these times we exercise a patient faith in the work of God and look forward to ultimate restoration and redemption. “I’m cold. I’m cold” is only a drop of time.

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