Too Cold for Angels to Fly?
The burning cold of Arctic air has enveloped America with shivering blasts of howling winds. An early winter has blanketed much of the US. It’s been so cold that skiers have gone to the slopes only to sit by a fire and look at the snow rather than risk frigid ascents up white capped mountains on lifts exposed to freezing wind chills measured in negative numbers. Ed Sheeran once wrote, “It’s too cold outside for angels to fly.” He just might be right, right now.
Borrowing from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, our recent Christmas to New Year’s mini-ice-age can be described as: “November extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and winter arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.” The bitter chill has been more than most of us bargained for. Even the churning waters of Niagara Falls have frozen over.
But we’ve generally found ways to weather the storms, perhaps a trip to the sun or a fireside afternoon with a hot cup of cocoa. We’ve unpacked winter coats, unboxed warmest boots and wrapped necks in knitted scarves. The cold has come, but thanks to central heat, woolen coats, and vehicles with dual heating controls and heated seats, we make the best of it. We’ll conquer the winter’s deep freeze in substantial comfort this year just like last year and the years before.
But before you hunker down in a favorite inglenook and curl up with an enticing book to pass the freezing hours, take a moment to consider again the chilling cost of freedom. The foot soldiers of freedom have often endured the invasion of winter to preserve our great liberties. From Washington’s Christmas crossing of the frozen Delaware to the snowy heroism of the Battle of the Bulge, our warriors have fought the elements as well as our enemies. Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78 is a scene to contemplate as we dash into our comfortable homes to escape the cold.
Washington wrote of his men’s lack of shoes remarking that their “marches might be tracked by the blood from their feet.” Washington’s adopted son, George Washington Parke Custis, related the same in his biography of his father. During the march to Valley Forge in December 1777, the General asked an officer, “How comes it, sir, that I have tracked the march of your troops by the bloodstains of their feet upon the frozen ground?”
Imagine the encampment at Valley Forge with men murmuring, “We want meat! We want meat!” New York’s representative to the Continental Congress, Gouverneur Morris, described Washington’s soldiers as, “An army of skeletons [that] appeared before our eyes naked, starved, sick and discouraged….” Marquis de Lafayette said the soldiers “… were in want of everything; they had neither coats nor hats, nor shirts, nor shoes. Their feet and their legs froze until they were black, and it was often necessary to amputate them.”
No wonder General Washington chided Congress for their “little feeling for the naked and distressed soldiers.” He lamented that he felt, “…superabundantly for them, and from my soul pity those miseries, which it is neither in my power to relieve or prevent.”
Perhaps Washington would scold us as well. The sacrificial sufferings of our soldiers in the cold of Valley Forge or in the burning desert heat of the arid Middle East are all too easily forgotten in our Christmas and New Year’s festivities. The cost of freedom is dear. But it’s too easy to be indifferent to those who’ve paid that price and endured the cold sufferings of war to preserve for us the warm comforts of liberty.
Washington’s words on the Memorial Arch at Valley Forge proclaim, “Naked and starving as they are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable Patience and Fidelity of the Soldiery”. A New Year’s resolution for all who enjoy the comfort of heated homes in the land of the free is to do something tangible this year to assist an active military family or care for a disabled veteran.
Maybe it’s true: “It’s too cold outside for angels to fly.” But even so, our nation’s angels of liberty are still flying in the air, sailing on the seas and marching on the snow and the sands—all to keep us and their families safe at home. They know by experience that eternal vigilance, regardless of the weather, is the price of liberty. Freedom’s warriors may be out in the cold, but we ought to have hearts warm enough to give them thanks for not having cold feet on the day of battle.