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Write Club: In Defense of Ice vs. Fire (Winner)

Let me just begin by saying that, given that we are all currently citizens of "Chiberia," I understand that this crowd may not be pro-ice, and that I could possibly be at somewhat of a disadvantage. And trust me, I get it. I'm originally from South Louisiana and I don't like the cold any more than you do. It snows there maybe once every 20 years, and even then, it's only a light dusting of flurries that never stick - nothing even near the icy tundra/shit storm that came with the polar vortex or, god forbid, the Snowpocalypse of 2011. In fact, when I was growing up, if the temperature outside was lower than 20 degrees - if these was even a small chance of ice - school would be canceled and there would be gumbo cooking on the stove. "Cook da rice," as we would say.

So you can only imagine that when I found myself living in Denmark for my first ever real winter, it came as quite a shock. Danish winters are not as harsh as the ones here in Chicago, but compared to what I was accustomed to at the time, it was harsher in every possible way. That's when I was really introduced to winter necessities, such as gloves, scarves, snow boots and heavy coats - things you never really need to survive a winter in Louisiana. Last Christmas, it was 75 degrees, and the only ice floating around was in the cocktail shaker.

Now, in Denmark, they have something called "hygge," which roughly translates to "cozy," but it means far more than that. It's a sense of friendship, or that feeling when you're with a group of people and the conversation and booze is flowing, and there's this general sense of community and camaraderie. This group can be made up of friends, family, or even people you've just met. It's about sharing, and finding those small bits of happiness, even through cold winters offering only a few hours of gray, dimmed sunlight. I know that it sounds like a Hallmark card, but hygge is about celebrating the simple pleasures in life, and that's what comes to mind when I think of Denmark.

And I feel the same is true for Chicago. It's freezing outside, there's snow and ice, but that ice brings us together, even if it's just out of shared misery. It pushes us to embrace the cozy side of life, and it also encourages us to share. In the face of the extreme temperatures we endured this week, homeless shelters and warming centers took in more people, and generosity throughout Chicago increased to help those in need to get blankets, clothing, and food. The chill unites us with our humanity.

For instance, there's a homeless man who is always sitting outside of the Starbucks on Michigan Avenue, across from Tribune Tower. Lately, he's been looking like a misshapen pile of dirty laundry, buried under every possible piece of random clothing he could find. I walk past him nearly every day. And, to be honest, I've grown numb to his presence. I know he's there, but I don't really pay attention to him, which I feel most of us have been guilty of at one point or another. But one day, as I was rushing to Starbucks before heading to work, there was this woman who was walking out of the door with two cups of coffee, and I was surprised when she bent down to hand one to this homeless man. That was the first time I really noticed him and how he was suffering in the cold. It's an awe inspiring thing, to see someone else rub your selfishness in your own face, even without really meaning to. You begin to notice the harsh weather conditions, imagine what that man's life must really be like, and you find empathy. I know I couldn't bear being outside in negative degree weather longer than it takes to cross the street - forget living on them.

The truth is that ice makes us more aware of everything. Our environment, our footsteps, our own suffering, as well as the suffering of others. We all know that ice can be brutal, unforgiving, and lethal. No one wants to freeze to death anymore than they want to be burned at the stake or caught in a burning building. But I think we sometimes forget that ice is also beautiful. And while fire destroys, ice creates. We catch snowflakes with our lashes and our tongues, and are amazed by their complex structures and beauty. Ice can even bend reality by creating a world in which you can walk on water, and actually see the wind frozen in time. These formations crystallize on surfaces, leaving behind temporary, but spellbinding art. It changes the way we see the world, wakes up our imaginations and can make the same scene we see every day magical. 

Just think about the warehouse on the South Side that caught on fire last January. If that fire would have happened under different circumstances, very few people would have even cared about that building. But due to the cold temperatures, the water used to put out those flames was able to create something extraordinary - an ice palace concealing something burned and ugly. Images flooded the web and were shared through every social media platform, all because people had to share the beauty and surprise that is ice. Naturally, that ice melted, as ice tends to do, but it left behind a visual experience that could be shared, if only for a moment.

Now, to go back to Denmark, in March of this past year, Coca-Cola teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund to raise money to protect the polar bear's Arctic habitat. To generate interest in this new "Arctic Home" campaign, a polar bear ice sculpture was installed in downtown Copenhagen. People who saw the bear had one of two options - they could walk past the ice bear and do nothing, or they could stop it from melting through interacting with a Facebook app. The temperature of the ice sculpture was controlled through both heating and cooling solutions. It started at zero degrees Celsius, and for those of us living in America that's 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and would rise by one degree every six hours. For every 1,000 likes and shares on Facebook, it would drop by one degree.

Over the course of three days, more than 35,000 Danes participated in this social experiment. That's one interaction every 15 seconds for 60 hours with a 2-ton block of ice turned into a polar bear sculpture, with Danes deciding if the ice bear should stay cool or melt away. If you liked or shared the information about the bear and the campaign, the temperature would go down and the bear would live to see another day. If you did nothing, the temperature went up and the bear would melt into a puddle of disappointment - all live streamed for the world to see. Thanks to over 10,000 people who used the application to help the bear, he survived...to be destroyed out of sight once the campaign was over. But the point is, more than 10,000 people in one small country acted to save a single block of ice.

When was the last time someone did that for fire?