I grew up in Minnesota. I lived in Upstate New York. I know how to use a shovel, an ice chopper, and a snowblower. But the past month has just been unrelenting. Everyone sees the pictures – the blizzards, the mountains of snow – but really, it’s not just the snow. If it were just the snow, it wouldn’t be so bad.
It’s the exhaustion. The physical, mental, spiritual exhaustion.
- The endless shoveling and the narrowing driveways and sidewalks. The sore muscles.
- The extra time all the chores – shoveling, clearing the car, chopping ice, finding a parking spot – take out of our already too full days.
- The parents wondering what to do on another snow day.
- The hourly workers losing pay.
- Trying to commute on what is left of the public transportation system.
- Trying to commute on roads where the two lanes are just exactly wide enough for two cars. Or so narrowed that only one car can go through at a time. Or the traffic is backed up because of the roads in Boston or because the plows are out moving the snow back from the shoulders of the road.
- It doesn’t matter how you commute – it takes at least twice as long.
- The highway without a merge lane (because it’s under snow) and with snow banks so high on the on-ramp you can’t see the traffic coming.
- The caregivers in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and elder housing spending nights on air mattresses in conference rooms and hallways, or in empty rooms. Sharing one shower, or having no showers, so that they can be at work in the blizzard. And the next blizzard. And the next.
- The darkness. Yes, the days are getting longer. But day after day has been gray; the sun has been in short supply. The snow is piled so high that some people’s windows or deck doors have disappeared behind snow.
- The frozen pipes. The broken pipes. The really spectacular plumber who tells you he can replace your frozen pipe, but it’s so cold it will just freeze again, so let’s wait a week. And it’s bailing out the sink with the drip and the frozen pipe.
- The ice dams. Damn them. The leaks in the house. The leaks you know will be in the house. The frantic calls and hold times before you can get someone out to the house to deal with them.
- Hiring someone to shovel your roof. And then watching the next snow cover it again.
But, it’s not just the snow.
- It’s neighbors shoveling out neighbors. And bringing them food or inviting them over for dinner. And sharing names of plumbers or roofers or contractors.
- It’s plow drivers and roofers and contractors and plumbers working almost around the clock so that the roads are cleared, the pipes are fixed, the ice dams are broken up, and the roofs are shoveled.
- It’s caregivers spending the night sleeping on the floor or driving through a blizzard so sick, or elderly, or vulnerable people are cared for.
- It’s parents and kids sledding, skiing, or just playing in the snow.
- It’s having quiet time to catch up on reading, or sewing, or getting the taxes done.
- It’s longer days, with the promise of spring, or at least a hint of sunlight, letting us know that we’ll make it through this.
The problem with having squirrels in the attic:
- THERE ARE SQUIRRELS IN THE ATTIC!
- Unlike my Uncle Stanley, z”l, I don’t have a shotgun to kill the squirrels in the attic.
- Even if I had a shotgun, it would probably be illegal to kill the squirrels in the attic.
- And I wouldn’t want to accidentally hit my neighbor’s house
- And I’m not fond of killing. Even squirrels.
- My fierce, favorite Midwestern-born putting-the-fear-of-God-into-squirrels niece, Rachel, lives – in the Midwest.
- I don’t have a dog anymore to bark at the squirrels in the attic.
- My kids’ dog Gus would probably try to make friends with the squirrels in the attic.
- And if I pulled down the stairs to the attic, the squirrels would probably take it as an invitation to join me outside of the attic.
- I never had squirrels in the attic when Bob was alive.
- (I don’t actually believe there is a causal relationship between living alone and having squirrels in the attic.)
- Why don’t the squirrels understand they should go live in a sukkah?
- Which I am not putting up because, among other things, I don’t want to deal with squirrels in a sukkah.
I’m sitting at my computer. I’m working and I have iTunes on in the background. On “shuffle,” of course. The Beatles come on: “All You Need is Love.” Following immediately is Nick Lowe – “Love’s Got a Lot to Answer For.”
I voted this morning. I entered the grade school gym, walked up to the check in table, and gave the women sitting there the name of my street. The woman with the book (the voter roll) turned to the page for my street. As I gave her my house number, reading upside down, I found my name before she did. It was the only name next to my house number. She made a red “X” in the box by my name. The other woman asked “Which ballot?” I answered, she gave me the ballot, and I voted.
Today was the first time, in all the years I have lived here, that my name was the only name for my house. A year ago when I went to vote, Bob’s name was still above mine on the voter roll. I remember thinking how odd it was to see his name without a red “X” since, in recent years, he would leave earlier in the morning than I did and would vote first.
Today was the first time, in many more years than I have lived here, that Bob’s name was not on the voter roll. It was easier to vote today than it was last year, easier with only my name on the page. It was harder to vote today than it was last year, knowing that his name will never again be on that list. One more loss. One more place where there is no longer a mark of his presence.
How often, when you meet someone new, do you ask: “What do you do?” How often does someone ask you: “What do you do?”
Do you have an answer? Do you tell them your title? Your job? Where you work? Or do you have a different answer?
When I answer by telling people that I’m a hospice chaplain, the most common responses are: “I don’t know how you can do that every day” or “You must be a saint.”
My friends or I can assure them – I am far from a saint. I can be sarcastic. The trunk of my car is a mess. I haven’t returned my Tab cans to the supermarket. I’m behind in my letter writing. There are piles of books all over the house (although I think I cleared up all my overdue library books today.) It’s after dark, so it’s already the second day of Elul and I’m blogging for the first day. And I do my job because it makes my soul sing.
Maybe I should change my response.
What do I do?
- I get out of bed everyday. (Which, given the state of the world today, given the personal issues each of us confront, given our challenges, and our pain, may be one of the most important things that any of us do.)
- I knit. It’s my form of meditation. It’s both mindful and mind-freeing.
- I do art projects and challenges. (My 100Day challenge postings are not up-to-date but they will be by the end of the weekend.)
- I drive. Way too much. But I listen to books on tape, podcasts, music, and interesting speakers and topics on the radio. (Of course, every time I listen to “On Being,” I seem to miss my exit. Perhaps spirituality does not belong in the car.)
- I get together with friends and family.
- I spend time with my granddaughter. She can smile and laugh. That’s what she does, and it’s pretty spectacular.
What do you do?