all of the selves we Have ever been
The first lacey snowflakes drift past my window. They are the delicate advance men for a fierce nor’easter on its way.
The anticipating world is already subdued.
A forecast of snow brings with it a universally shared sense of caution. Go slow. Take your time. Tardiness will be excused. Don’t go out if you don’t have to.
The snow provides a buffer against sound and activity. All is surreal. We watch the world, but are we in it? On such a day, the snow-covered earth is like an innocent bride in a gown of white while home is the church where children give thanks for snow-prayers answered.
Staring out my window this morning, I feel the way I once did as a child living in the hilly suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was a time when the world had no problem sheltering in place. It was the average lifestyle. During the day, neighborhoods were devoid of traffic. Dads had the only cars with them at work. At home, Moms were busy with all of the hard labor of keeping house and maintaining large families. Kids went only where their feet could take them. Most businesses were closed on Sundays and there were blue laws. For school-age children, the lights went out by 9:00 PM, and the three television networks stopped broadcasting after the nightly news. Depending on the location, a ten or eleven o’clock public service announcement adjourned the day by asking parents, “Do you know where your children are?”
We had a large bay window in our living room. On a snow day, that window was our weather channel. We were all budding Al Rokers, shouting weather updates from the sofa and providing special reports of kids sledding or cars skidding down our steep hill.
When the snow accumulation became deep enough, we bundled up and went outside to play in the yard, throw snowballs, sled, or build snowmen. We might also shovel the area around the mailbox to make way for the postman or sweep the walkway to the front door for the paperboy and the milkman.
My little brother, a budding entrepreneur by age 8, was quick to mow a lawn or shovel snow. He was born knowing how to make a buck. One winter, HB got his hands on a used snow blower. He made up little business cards offering services to the neighbors. He cranked out the cards on a small hand-held device that contained an ink-filled roller. In addition to my brother’s name and our home phone number, the cards listed his services including lawn mowing and blow jobs. We didn’t understand our father’s reaction to the cards, but they were confiscated and a new batch prepared with parental supervision.
After hours spent outdoors playing, shoveling, and giving blow jobs, we came back inside through the basement, stripping off our ice-crusted boots and top layer of clothing. Clothing was hung on a makeshift clothesline where it could drip dry into the floor drain instead of all over the hardwood floors upstairs. We made hot chocolate from Nestle’s Quick which we all agreed would have been much better if only we had marshmallows. We spent hours playing Monopoly, and when that got old, we sleuthed with Nancy Drew, or helped to fold laundry.
Snow days had the pace of a day one might expect in heaven. By nightfall, we were exhausted but happy. We paused in our home chapels to pray for more snow. Sometimes God heard us. More often, he took mercy on our mothers and gave priority to their prayers. He sent sunshine.
The sunlight was so powerful this morning
that the blinds were helpless, and so, they let it in.
Though it was early when I awoke to its brilliance, the intensity of the sun’s light gave me the feeling that the day was already deep in progress.
The DJ in my head began to spin the old 1971 John Denver Poems, Prayers, and Promises LP record. The song, Sunshine on my Shoulders, snuggled in as a happy earworm throughout the morning: Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy…
This morning’s sunlight did, indeed, make me happy. With the recent months of dreary weather and not a single weekend of sunshine, the light in the sky today felt like a gift, the sunshine like a magic eraser wiping away the dreary yesterdays.
As I go about the business of the morning, my mind wanders and wonders.
I reflect on the story of creation which begins with God saying, “Let there be light.” Perhaps, the Creator intended for the human story to be a happy one.
I think of a friend whose aging mother absolutely refused to discuss anything that might have a sad or negative component no matter how important or urgent the matter. As my friend’s caregiving responsibilities increased, I would often check in with her, “How’s your mother?” to which my friend predictably replied, “You know, it’s always 76 degrees and sunny.” It was difficult to get to the truth about serious subjects with her mother—sunny became a frustrating forecast for the daughter, but a nice retirement climate for her mother.
I remember summer rains from my youth when the air was heavy and the pavement hot. When it was safe to do so, we were permitted to play outdoors in the rain. It was so much better than running through the sprinkler. During those summer showers, the playground had no boundary lines; we did not have to fight for a turn. The rain was everywhere, there for all of us. We were too young and too happy to have the adult self-consciousness that lays waste to joy by worrying about damaged clothes, frizzy hair, or running mascara. We knew the sun would return, and when it did, we would sit around baking in our bathing suits until we were dry.
My father retired to warm and sunny southern California. He often asked about the weather where I lived in Ohio. Dad loved the climate of his California home, but he missed a good thunderstorm. During the final weeks of his life, I sent him a nature tape of a thunderstorm. I think Dad missed the power, the cleansing, and the promise of freshness when a storm passes. The sound and the promise helped Dad to reach the other side, the one on which God said, “Let there be light.”
So John Denver’s voice plays on in my head. And yes, it is as true for me as for John Denver: sunshine almost always makes me high.