A long time ago, ca. high school, I tried to write rhymed verses poetry. One such poem, began;
Earthward bound glides the gulls toward the cliffs below,
The bird, himself, like a piece of heaven, downward drifting slow.
The poem continued (and I can’t remember the words now) by depicting the seagull as it morphed into a snowflake, followed by millions more. The snow then became a metaphor for the profound grace that snow offers.
It snowed ten inches at our house this morning.
My father was vehement about snow, more than anything else … except possibly archeology. This was in Tennessee, where snowfall was more of the exception to a winter’s day than the rule. He reverted to childhood when the guy on TV predicted snow, or when it wasn’t forecasted, but he felt it in his bones. He swore he could see snow coming across the mountain, far more in advance than the weather satellites could.
On those nights of possible snow, dad would stand glued at our front door, lit Pall Mall cigarette between his fingers, switching on and off our porch light waiting to greet that first flake. It was customary for him to wake us children up at 2 a.m. if such a snowflake did indeed fall. If snow covered the ground by morn, then dad would become the little boy he once was, and as unpredictable. But joy would seep through the cold, plastic covered windows and fill our house like a Christmas’ dawn. But why does snow cast such a spell?
Dad’s passion wore off on me. I grew to love snow. In college, I found it in our own backyard, in our mountains above four thousand feet. There, you could measure snow in yards. I took up winter backpacking and spent many of the nights sleeping with my lover … the snow.
The zeal of snow drove me north, first to Kentucky, then lower Michigan, upper Michigan, and then Minnesota before moving west. Denise caught my awareness when I met her in Abu Dhabi, because she said she was from a snowy place, Duluth, Minnesota. We lived in Cairo in the middle of that northern migration . . . and it snowed there, once.
The magical thing about snow is the grace it carries. My now forgotten poem, described how all the “ills of man,” (this was in the time that “man” represented humankind) broken tools, and shattered souls would each be covered by a perfectly smooth, whiteness. It becomes Eden once more.
Grace is the central message of Christianity, long buried by the bull shit culture that, like a parasitic plant, grows around it. Modern American white evangelicals pour profound grace on their own, within the walls of their fortified subculture, but render none, not one scintilla, to those outside their narrowly defined culture.
But true grace is exhaustive, that for which all people’s long.
Some of us yearn for it more than others. Many of you are like me, where you feel this underlying guilt, a pervasive remorse over done things, which can’t be undone.
I saw a poignant cartoon that made me chuckle. It was of a woman awake in her bed in the middle of the night. The caption said something like, “Just as I was falling asleep, my mind then reminded me of every mistake that I’ve made since I was two years old.”
Some of this guilt is real. We base it on poor choices that we’ve made. But often it is a false guilt over things which we had no control.
I am surprised how guilty illness makes you feel. I had heard it for decades from my migraine patients. They tried to teach me how they feel guilt. While they are lying in bed with excruciating pain and their kids free-ranging in the house; their sister-in-law has a high-paying executive position and an ideal home full of perfect children.
The guilt of illness comes in losing your job and then spending enormous amounts of money to sustain your life when you used to sustain that of others. Guilt comes when you can no longer keep up with people on bikes or trails. It comes when society stops inviting you to take part, partially because of your physical limitations and partially because of the social awkwardness you bring into a room. “Should we bring up his health?”
I will not continue to catalog all the things that can leave that tale taste of guilt in our mouths.
When I lived in Marquette, Michigan, when snows started in October and didn’t let up until May, it was a perfect world. I skied daily for six months of the year. Life seemed impeccable. But then in May, as the snow retreated from beneath a late spring’s sun, it was ugly. The snow became gray. From beneath those seasonal glaciers came the old lawnmower that had stopped working last September, the Fritos bag, the McDonald’s cup, the dead squirrel, the—now rusty—lost tools, and who knows what else. Soon, the spring flowers bloom, but that’s for another metaphor.
We become children when it snows because it lifts the burden of guilt. That haunting voice of accusation is quieted within that silent world. It is a spirt of childhood that I wish would endure. And it can.
I met a remarkable lady somewhere in a dark corner of the middle east, in some smoky teashop in an unknown place. She was an American who, decades before, had gone to the “mission field” as a family medical doctor. During that tour (and I won’t get into details here) she had a profound mental breakdown. She ended up in a psychiatric hospital in Philadelphia. On top of the failure she felt a profound shame, shame put on her by her colleagues, her sending churches, her mission board, and by herself. It was a long process of healing for her.
In response to her own mental breakdown, and her stint with serious psychiatric treatment, she entered a psychiatric residency program (training program for becoming a psychiatrist). After starting her practice in New York as a psychiatrist, she still felt a burden for those, like her previous life, who were living abroad and facing difficulties. Being single, she would spend her vacations traveling the world alone looking for people like me, who were struggling with their own mission boards, or those, like she did, dealing with culture shock. But the thing I remember the most about her was that her favorite recreational sport was swinging. No, not the Roger Stone type, but literally. She would seek a playground in Lebanon, Egypt, China, or wherever she was and swing on a swing for hours. I watched her, in her seventies by that time, swinging and laughing.
This is the childhood attitude that I seek, that simple joy before life added the weight. Where grace permeates all else. Where regrets, sorrows, pain and qualms are laid to rest under a blanket of purity and peace. Let it snow!