MCHENRY: How’s the weather?

I used to think that talking about the weather was a joke. When you break the silence with a comment like “It’s been so hot recently,” you’re performing some meta-commentary on the awkwardness of the conversation itself. And on the scale of fake conversation topics, the weather is a half step below asking someone to have a meal sometime.

We have better things to discuss — our summers, our plans for junior year — but for whatever reason, my friends and I seem to have forgotten them recently. During Camp Yale, when we should have caught up with one another, we instead complained about the humidity and debated the best brand of box fan. When classes began, it was still easier to think of the weather. My suitemate stumbled into our common room one day during shopping period. She had been to five classes. “It’s too hot to think,” she said. “Way too hot,” I agreed.

I had hoped that this obsession with the weather would subside once we, as a campus, recovered from our collective heat stroke, but it hasn’t. If anything, the arrival of the New England fall has only lead to more fretting. Wasn’t it beautiful, I told a friend, when the mugginess broke into thundering last Friday? Isn’t it refreshing to walk through crisp, non-smothering air to morning classes? “Yeah,” he said. “But then it’ll be winter, and that just sucks.”

That’s the thing to remember when you bring up the weather: be pessimistic. It might be the most stunning fall on record, the kind that makes you want to lie on your back in Branford courtyard or wander into the Robert Frost poem that is East Rock Park. You would still hear grumblings about the frigid air. In spring, the most popular season, people complain about allergies, or even the end of the school year. We learned too much in freshman English. We always qualify our points.

There’s something insidious about this kind of conversation, inane as it seems. A parade of petty comments only adds up to lump-sum pessimism. Give me a beautiful day, and soon I’ll be convinced that it was only an almost-beautiful day — if the morning was warmer, if it was less windy, if I hadn’t stepped in a puddle on the way out of Bass.

I’ve heard these weather-related conversations more often this year, or maybe I’ve noticed more of them. I grew up in California; I first experienced winter my freshman year. If I move home after graduation, I only have two years left of fall colors. Even if I stay on the East Coast, it won’t be the same. Snows only falls for a handful of days each year. I have 10 days, maybe 20, left to walk through the Silliman courtyard, silenced by a storm.

Criticism, as my professor once told me, provides distance. Instead of engaging with an experience, you draw yourself away from it. You don’t embrace it fully. We have many more seasons to live through — this can’t be the best weather. We have many more years — these can’t be the best days. But if you call the present a high point, does that mean the future can only get worse?

Now imagine a perfect fall day. The leaves are about to change. There is a light breeze, and you have a 10-minute gap between classes. Tonight you have tons of homework and club meetings. You have a missed call from your parents. Soon, the snow will set in, and the cold will seep into your bones. But look around; this day can still be beautiful.

Jackson McHenry is a junior in Silliman College. Contact him at jackson.mchenry@yale.edu.

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