The snow is deep, and clean, magnificent in its ability to obliterate what I thought were solid objects.
Our cars are gone, as are the curbs, low bushes and the bottom two feet of everything. Everything is cancelled or closed: businesses, public schools, municipal offices and even the Big Ten school down the road is closed for only the fifth time in 159 years. My workplace is closed.
The Mayor has declared a Snow Emergency, and we are told to drive only for “essential purposes.” There is no place for me to go, and even if I had a place to go I would not be permitted to go to that place unless I was on fire or wearing snowshoes. We are not even supposed to try to shovel; the ordinance requiring us to clear snow on our property within 24 hours has been suspended because the wind chill makes it feel like it’s -30 degrees outside.
Cold enough to take your breath away. We are winter people, people with four-wheel drive, shovels, salt, warm coats and sturdy boots. Still, this has stopped us in our deep, snow-crunching tracks.
It would seem, at first blush, the perfect opportunity to hole up in a warm house, make warm things to eat and chill out, as if the Universe is making me stop spinning, going, planning, and most of all feeling guilty about what I am not doing.
If I open my hands and take what I am given by this frigid, cosmic pause in my life, I might sink deeply and restoratively into rest. I know the feeling, I know it from moments when I have awoken and had nowhere to be and nothing to do, my mind moving idly and my breath coming from deep within me for seconds or minutes. It is not like the oblivion of sleep; it’s the ultimate aliveness of noticing everything around me, allowing it, and synchronizing myself instead of struggling to assert the urgency of my artificial agenda.
For some reason, though, because of some tight knot in my psyche tied and fortified by generations of hard-working ancestors, I am fighting this great white chance for peace. I sit and read a novel for maybe half an hour, and then I am anxious, guilty and restless. I am thinking, thinking things like “other people have to go to work today and I am in my pajamas while they are driving on dangerous roads, I should be cleaning my office or cleaning the whole house, I could get ahead on my menus for work, I am sitting on my ass freaking READING while my kitchen floor is dirty and there’s a load of laundry left and I could at least be reading something that would teach me something and…” you get the picture.
Then, because I am neither unkind nor totally insane, I remind myself of various things. I remind myself as if I were speaking to a beloved but stubborn friend who could not see the value of opening herself up to something rare, nourishing and beautiful.
“Annie,” I say, adding another pair of socks (dark blue with red stripes) to my persistently cold feet, “you feel guilty about relaxing but you never really relax. When you work, you work hard and spend yourself with abandon, and your soul requires the respite of nothingness. There are people wired differently, people who are wretched when they are not moving and shaking, but you are not among them. It is not your nature, your talent, or your destiny to be constantly in motion.”
“I’m a slacker” I respond mutinously. “You’re saying I’m naturally lazy.”
I sigh, fortifying my patience.
“Not at all” I reply, trying with all my might to send healing, soothing waves of compassion to my struggling self. “I am saying that you can’t live your life based on the needs and expectations of other people. You are old enough to know, and know well that you can’t do good work when you are tense and you are almost always tense these days. Last year was epically tough, you are still grieving the loss of your mother, still adjusting to the changes wrought by age, still reeling from the demands of balancing challenging work, an aging parent and a spirited teenage child.”
“People do that stuff all the time. All kinds of people juggle all of those things every day without real rest, they work hard at work and work hard at home and literally can’t afford ‘down time. They would listen to this twaddle and say ‘must be nice.’”
I am losing patience, looking out the window onto the blank white of the yard, my breath leaving its ghost on the window. “That’s like refusing a gift because it hasn’t been given to everyone. It’s ungrateful. It gets you nowhere. If you throw away these days, these expanses of empty time that stretch out as untrammeled as the snow outside the window, you are ungrateful and selfish. It’s nourishment for your soul, given generously by a world that rarely doles out such extravagant presents. Take it, feel it, read your book and drink your tea. Feel the warm, trusting head of a dog on your cold feet. Calm your heartbeat until it is in sync with the wind blowing through the trees and the flakes falling through the air.
Because your ambitions and your busy-ness sleeps beneath this icy calm like the seeds and bulbs below the frozen ground. There is a time to move and reach and grow and a time to rest and prepare for that growing. The tulip bulbs feel no guilt, and hibernating animals are not pacing their warm dens in an angsty state. They sleep, and they grow strong.”
I hear it that time. My breath is slowing. Everyone I love is safe and warm, there is soup on the stove and I have books to read.
Most of all, I have time, a snow-muffled, arctic snow globe of free time with plenty of room to stretch, and dream and untie my knots.
It’s a gift from the Universe.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: by Sami on Flickr