There it was: WINTER STORM WATCH: SAT 6AM-SUN 12PM. 4-8″ OF SNOW, BEGINNING WITH FREEZING DRIZZLE. ADDITIONAL DETAILS: TRAVEL COULD BE VERY DIFFICULT.
For all of my breezy affirmations about being at home with my elderhood, this is the one anticipated but dreaded banner that messes with the best of my intentions. The worst words: travel could be very difficult. “Very.” No kidding. This is Minnesota. This happens.
“So why now?” I ask. I’m supposed to travel on Sunday morning. Only 20 miles, to be sure, but be out on the road I must. In my retirement as a pastor, I’ve been preaching at a small church for a few weeks while they are seeking a new pastor. I love it. Except when travel could be difficult. Even for just 20 miles. So today, I’m fretting. Just a bit. Occasionally reminding myself to breathe.
Snow-accumulated and possibly slippery roads are nothing to sneeze at. But we northerners have learned how to navigate them when they are navigable. We drive more slowly, keep a longer space between us and the car ahead, begin to come to a stop sooner, and know the drill about how to manage a skid. And how to call AAA when we find ourselves hopelessly stuck. (How did we ever get along without smartphones?) And hope that the winter heroes got their plows and salt trucks out early enough. That’s the life we choose when we live in the north. And I’ve driven bad winter roads enough times in my 77 years of life to know what I’m fretting about!
This is what it means to stay in the north all year round: pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps from time to time; facing the frigid winds and the dropping temperatures; checking weather reports against what we’re seeing out our windows. Making sure our survival kit is stashed in the car (chocolate anyone?). For property owners, it’s snow blowers and shovels and keeping the furnace exhaust from getting plugged by snow drifts.
For all of us – taking out the baskets of gloves and mittens and elaborate long scarves; snow suits for the kids and some of the grown-ups; earmuffs and down coats and lined boots and wool clothing. And layering. Best to be layered. We made it a fashion statement.
What a way to live! I know. We who live it grouse about it, and those of you who are farther south think there’s something either amazingly heroic or insanely stupid about choosing to stay here in winter. I know. Still…lots of us do it year after year. The question is, why?
In 1961, I traveled for 6 weeks in Europe with my college choir. (6 weeks??? I know!) We did a concert one evening in a spectacular Romanesque cathedral in communist East Berlin, in sight of the Brandenburg Gate which divided it from West Berlin. It was only 2 weeks before the Berlin Wall would appear overnight, separating the two sides and all its people from each other for more than 28 years.
We had a chance to visit with 8 or 10 young students after the concert. We had toured East Berlin earlier in the day. We had felt the oppression. Yet, here they were. We asked how often they would go into West Berlin, knowing that it was possible and assuming it would be highly desirable to escape the grey limits for at least a few hours.
“Never,” they replied. “If we want to work, we have to sign a paper that says we will not go to West Berlin. We have to work, so that is what we have to do.”
“Then why do you stay,” we asked in our naivete. Freedom and all…
“Because this is our home,” they calmly answered. Soon it would be their prison. I fret about snow and ice. Some of them may have died behind that wall. But it was their home. And this cold, snowy winter piece of the world is mine. So I stay.
Perhaps that says a lot about why we amazingly heroic/insanely stupid people stay here. This is our home, this cold, wintry, snowy, icy, wind-blown north that keeps us here. Yes, it has its challenges and it stretches our endurance sometimes, but it gives us gifts, too.
Yes, there are the snowbirds who leave for Florida or the Southwest for the coldest, snowiest months, but they’re another breed and we love them in spite of it. You might call them the only sane ones. And there are the ones who simply move to the south for good for year ’round sun and warmth, and we forgive them because a part of us understands.
But it’s also magical here. And it breeds hardy stock and brave people who throw their long scarves around their faces with abandon and turn them to the wind because they are going somewhere they need to be.
The lights of winter really do sparkle more brightly and magically against the white snows. We get into our warm cars and tour the city to see them because they feed our souls.
The shoosh-shoosh of skis going downhill or cross-country, and skaters doing graceful turns on the ice are sounds of being fully alive and fully present. The skating rinks and hockey arenas are energetic community in action. Snow persons and snow forts crop up in neighborhoods and an ice castle and ice sculptures bring us out to embrace their frigid beauty. And laughter outdoors is so singularly bright and infectious!
The chills of being outside are all the more tolerable when the warmth of indoors greets us with welcome and the promise of comfort. And a nearly frozen nose and chilly fingertips know the deliciousness of thawing out. How often does the familiar, “Brrrrr!!!” show up with a grin? More often than you might think. The aromas of hot cider or hot chocolate warm the insides and greet us with the reminders of other loving places of our past.
We can’t wait to shed all the winter gear in the spring. It is a pain to put on boots, gloves, scarves, coats, wool socks, sweaters and sweats every single time we go out. But there’s something cozy and comforting about being safely wrapped up against the elements. And energetic about stomp, stomp, stomping to get the snow off our boots.
The happiness hormones get a massive winter workout here because we are so often overcoming , transcending and working out our resilience quotient! And all of that fills us up with the wonder and excitement and fullness of being alive!
This is where our hearts are. That’s what home is. No geography is perfect. No building finally houses the deepest meaning of what “home” is. It’s the people who share the struggles of every place together and find joy together in the midst of them. It’s where familiar takes on meaning.
The details of how we do it are the outward and visible signs of an inner grace. And that’s the definition of a sacrament. Sacred spaces. Sacred time. Sacred living.
It’s all a part of how I got here. And I’m very okay with that! And I’m still breathing.
Update: Church was not canceled. The highway was plowed but we all took it easy. And magic appeared as we gathered in this “home.”