Skip to main content
On Snow in Spring and Small Simple Things featured img
Category: Global Sisterhood

On Snow in Spring and Small Simple Things

February 27, 2023

When we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people, we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us.

bell hooks, Where We Stand

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

African Proverb

Yesterday was spring, all warm breezes and hints of soft sunlight and dry and faded grass beginning to perk up in the neglected wasteland that is our yard in winter, but today dawned with a cold, clear, bright sun, the kind of harsh and unrelenting light found reflected off acres of white snow. Everywhere there was snow silently shrouding the ground, obscuring the road, making parked cars nothing more than soft mounds along the streets, and burying deep the grass that looked so hopefully green the day before while the trees droop low under the unexpected weight, and although I proclaim myself a lover of winter, I confess I was beginning to find myself growing accustomed to the idea of spring, and surprised by the swift and sudden return of the cold. 

Spring is a mercurial thing really, shy and flirtatious and sleepy, unwilling to be rushed or hurried, like a teenager on an early morning—slow to wake, and even slower to rise, doing so with a grumbling that reverberates through the air in moans and groans and the slick sliding sounds of slippery slush as ice melts and snow disappears and the seasons give way to one another inch by muddy inch. But it is no clear transition and warm days and cold nights and cold days and warm nights waffle back and forth as if they do not care about our red noses and our cold toes or the way we must bundle up to protect our necks from sudden chill and then immediately strip down when the temperature turns and sweat slides to slip between shoulder blades and behind knees and jackets are carried instead of worn and then the sun shifts out of sight and the temperature drops and we bundle up once again.

I wasn’t sad to see the snow, or regretful, only surprised that it kept coming down, hour after hour, as classes were canceled, and work reassigned, and the long and full day shuffled into silence as the snow continued to fall. 

I was glad of it. Glad of the break from the ordinary, the interruption of hurried, harried schedules, a change from too many meetings packed into too few hours. We stayed home, content in the change of pace, and I slipped on heavy shoes and sweaters and slogged through the storm to shovel the piled inches from the drive and the sidewalk and the edges of our yard, and as I did I nodded to my neighbor as he shoveled his drive and his sidewalk and the edges of his yard and we exchanged a few words and I wondered at the last time I saw him, at the last time we talked, and as we turned back to our respective doors I thought of the way we separate ourselves by such arbitrary measures as property lines and fences and neatly shoveled lines in the snow. And as I thought of the ways we are divided I saw another neighbor with her hat pulled low over her forehead, in sturdy boots and a heavy coat, crossing the street with a plate of warm cookies to check on an elderly man alone in his home in the midst of the late winter storm.

It was a little thing, except for the way that it wasn’t, for it spoke of gentle care and respect and just a touch of the divine. And I have been thinking about it since, that small moment of one person reaching out to another on a long cold day when we were expecting spring and instead got winter. It was a little thing, and I am beginning to think that all the important things are, like the way it takes only a moment to talk to the checkout girl in the line at the grocery store when you are rushing in for bread and milk, the girl you see but rarely notice. The way it takes so little effort to be kind to the angry man who cut you off when you were waiting for a parking space, and yes, it was annoying, and yes, it made you a grand total of three minutes late, but it is a very small thing to nod and move on and find a spot two rows over and one row down and it affords you the time to finish the song on the radio that you love, to tap your fingers and to sing along. 

The best solutions to most problems are the simple ones. My father taught me to fix stripped screws not by redrilling the holes, but by shoving wood glue and matchsticks into the empty space that they left behind. When I close my eyes I can see his hands, skin rough and nails cracked from work, dark lined thumb wiping away the excess glue as he demonstrated, deftly twisting the screws into the hinge of the door I had pulled out of alignment. The pressure of the additional wood kept the loose screws in place, made them sturdy and strong and stable, and helped the door swing freely. When people talk about the challenges we face, the isolation, the loneliness, the lack of empathy and grace and all those other hallowed habits that we used to learn about in Sunday school, I think about those matchsticks. What are the little bits and pieces that will fill in the empty spaces and straighten our crooked hinges? What are the small acts and simple stories that will keep us strong and stable and sturdy against the fierceness of the winter wind?

It is a small thing to smile more. To rush less. To grasp the hand of the grumpy old man at the church door when he extends his own gnarled fingers your way. It is a small thing to call your mother, to pray for your children, to make a larger than normal pot of soup and invite others in for food and conversation. It starts in simple ways, with small things that become larger things, and what we need is not another lecture on how to live our lives but a reminder to open our eyes and our imaginations and to begin to know what is possible. It is a small thing to envision the types of connection and caring that create change, to try to see the way things can be done, to notice the habits that people far holier than I are living each and every day, as they cross those boundaries that were drawn out and divided and never intended to be a guide on how to live.  Herman Melville said, “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men,” but I worry that we have been handed a pair of scissors and told to cut ourselves free of those threads, instead of being taught to weave the strands more tightly together, to create out of the cords a cat’s cradle, to knit a simple scarf, to weave a hammock and swing through those long lazy summer days—to teach ourselves the importance of bundling up in a warm coat and sturdy boots to traverse the storms as purveyors of warm, baked goods. To learn how to reach across our fences and yards and to shovel one another’s snow.