Last weekend, the east coast was hit hard by a blizzard that raged up the seaboard. Here in Matawan, we got just over 18 inches of snow. For the better part of a day and night the world became like the inside of a snow globe. Beautiful if you had the good fortune to be inside and warm. Looking out at that weather made me mindful of how precious time can be when everything has to stop, when people are jarred loose from their busy and fretful pursuits in life. For a brief time, even we tough and hardened New Jerseyans let people take their time driving on the roadways. Folks were allowed to slow down. That doesn't happen very often at all. I guess it takes a blizzard to do for people what they should be doing mindfully every day. I know it did that for me.
And then, after that interlude, came the morning. Time to dig out. You can only sit inside and admire the snow covering everything in an indiscriminate cloak of white for so long. Then, it is time to venture forth, armored against the wind, the wet and the chill....it is time to clear pathways, driveways and sidewalks. Our civic duty to perform, the care of our fellow human being to see to and to assure all that though the snow did fall it is still safe to walk past our homes or to approach the front doors of our domiciles without falling on ice and cracking open our skulls-or bruising parts of our anatomy that St. Paul says are best left "cloaked."
I found myself up at 5 AM, and met the "plow guy" in our church lot shortly thereafter. He had been out on the roads since 9 PM the evening before...and that was a late start, he said. He looked as tired as a person can look, and though each visit to a snow-covered drive was money in his pocket; you could tell he was ready to be home-wrapped up around a hot cup of coffee with only the prospect of sleep in his near future. He was snow-weary, to be sure.
We talked, mostly about weather...what else? And then, he made his way for his third pass in our lot and I started to work on getting the side door of the Church cleared out for the 8 AM scheduled liturgy.
This brings me to the point of this rumination...shoveling snow. Something we all have to do at some point in our lives, right? Still, I saw some interesting things as I worked my own chore, and observed others doing (and sometimes, not doing) their part to clear away the common paths of our community's life for safe passage.
I saw my dog gratefully work her way down the trench I had opened for her. She has to "go" outside. It would be cruel for me not to think of her first. She has a cleared area in her favorite corner of the yard.
I saw folks of all ages out clearing their driveways of the weighty drift pushed into their road access by the plows that cleared the main roads. Children were draped on glacial drifts, watching their parents and older siblings work up a sweat, liking bits of snow from their gloves.
I heard roar and then saw the plumes, of snow blowers. There is always someone on the block who has one...and who goes the extra mile and clears not just his-but his neighbors' drives as well. Helping can also be fun.
I also saw a man visit a local soup kitchen. For a small bit if cash and a hot lunch, he cleared a lot that the Church sexton had left undone. That was probably going to be his pocket money for the next week...and that week is Christmas. He had a flimsy shovel, but he worked hard and he earned his pay.
I can also note, that even the best neighbors in the summer months don't always clear their sidewalks. As a dog walker, whose pooch companion has to suffer the salt of the roadways because of that, I am saddened. She and I are pushed out into the street, and I spend a lot of time brushing off her pads and lifting her over the uglier patches of salt deposits.
Shoveling snow is hard work. It is a major cause of cardiac emergencies in the winter months. It isn't fun, and it is a chore....but when you stop to look, you can also see how it shows the mettle of a human being. When I step up and do my part, I find that my outlook on life is better for it. I am a better neighbor. I may not like the task, but I can-and do-love the work that takes me closer to my neighbor.