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Do you remember what it is like to long for a snow day? (Oh, that school would be closed for the day due to snow storms or ice, or maybe even frigid temperatures!)
The day before, the weather is brooding and spitting, forecasters are projecting doom, and even the teachers have begun to whisper, “Snow Day?!?” to one another.
You head home quietly hopeful, and over dinner you begin to discuss it with your siblings. You start to believe it — or, sort of believe it — because you’ve been wrong before. Even your teachers and the weather forecasters have been wrong. And, snowstorms are reliably unpredictable. After dinner you try to decide whether homework still matters, and you begin to dream of sleeping in past six, cozy beneath your covers while snow rages outside and dad bangs around the driveway with the snowblower because certainly he still has to work. You wonder whether mom might make pancakes.
Worrisomely, it is only windy at bedtime. You decide to wear your pajamas inside out and flush an ice cube down the toilet— you do this with your sister, the only time you’ve ever stood and watched over the toilet in such a way together. You also accept the spoon she gives you to slide beneath your pillow; one last ditch effort. You are so excited with the hope of a snow day that it is late when you are able to release the longing enough to sleep, and then only fitfully, until the call might be made in the morning.
January weather in Michigan has brought a mishmash of longing and fulfillment, both, in regard to snow days. My children have not had one full week back in school since Christmas. Even so, I promise you, the longing for a snow day to be called does not wane though you’ve already had three or four. The hopes are always high. My kids had a wonderful snow day at home this past Tuesday, but went to bed wanting more of the same on Wednesday. Much to my son’s disgruntlement he was required to go back to school on Wednesday. It was a rough morning.
As a side note: When I worked with international students, and when I spent time in India, I learned of the many people worldwide who think Americans are a bit crazy for constantly talking about the weather. But I’ve come to understand that, at least in Michigan, we talk about the weather because it is actually interesting, and it deeply affects our coming and going, our highs and lows. The weather, indeed, guides and directs so very much of how we exist in the world.
As I’ve watched out my windows this January, and regularly checked my weather app for any blow-by-blow changes, I’ve also been keeping an eye on my dog. Dear, dear Honey, how she loves the snow. She loves to lap up the bright, cold flakes like a refreshing winter treat, and from indoors, we love to observe her bounding, galloping, hopping, and flopping around in the backyard drifts. Her elation is evident as she plays and inspects the property. We smile, and we welcome her back into the house covered in snowballs all matted throughout her golden fur. We don’t even complain when her beard melts in drips and puddles around the kitchen. Her glee makes us glad.
Another of Honey’s highlights, one of her life’s expectations, is her daily morning walk. It is my job, and usually my delight, to keep the pace with her for two miles each morning. And, most every single night our family takes her out for another, shorter stroll. These walks give rhythm and structure to Honey’s day, and to ours.
This January, however, has been cramping our style. There has been a lot of snow, a lot of single-digit cold and wind chills, and too much ice for us to feel all that safe walking outdoors many mornings and nights. We have the sweetest dog, thanks be to God. Honey is ever-patient with us, and though she watches for all of the “going for a walk” cues, and we see her hopefulness ready to spring to action in the very way she holds her body alert, she does not pressure us, nor whine, beg, or cry. She just waits and hopes.
I’ve found, much to Honey’s particular benefit, that even when the weather is poor, my heart is soft. As often as I feel it is reasonably safe, I relent and bundle myself for a walk. It sometimes means even Honey finds herself scrabbling across the icy patches on claws, while my own feet flail beneath me. It sometimes means my face stings in the wind and I have to find another route where the wind will blow at my back.
Lately, after the landslide of snow days, and many missed walks, when I latch on the leash Honey is all puppy-joy as she pulls me along. I stumble my way though drifts to my knees and crunch along the crumbly sidewalk plow paths, all the while trying to keep up with my dog’s chipper romping. I see her tail curled in a happily fluffed round, and I breath a deep breath of wintry air and try to look for the beauty I know will be there. By the end of the walk, fingers sweating in my mittens, cheeks pink, and heart pumping, I’m alive and well with the work of it, and giddy with the surprise joy of it. So often, when I hardly wanted to leave my snug home, I’m genuinely glad for the walk.
Yesterday, after the string of storms, and while it was actually still snowing, my parents pulled out of their driveway to head down to Florida as retirees are wont to do. They are eager and expectant for the trip and the time there with family and friends. I’m happy for them too, but the drive is long, and could involve any assortment of tedium and delays. I know they’re all set with audio books, and my mom, with her knitting. I know they will take their time and enjoy the journey for what it is. Oh, and just to be safe, I sent along the remainder of the Christmas caramel corn. (I know, I know! Who’s still got caramel corn sitting around?!?) I wanted to make their journey sweeter.
This all has me thinking of our endless COVID pandemic. Oh, but wait. Like many of you, I have heard them using the word “endemic” instead. Oh, dear. That word shatters the longing and hopefulness that we hold for the end of a pandemic. We are weary of waiting on a semblance of the familiar life we used to lead, the one when we didn’t know COVID. We are almost at a loss to remember what normal supposedly looked like. In fact, we’re pretty sure at this point, that even if we wear our pajamas inside out and flush ice cubes down the toilet, the pandemic won’t end.
My husband was hanging out with some friends a couple of nights ago. They have been regularly gathering in a heated garage and eating pork nachos together for months upon months. That was not normal before, but now, it is. With a bit of desperation, they asked one another, “How will it end?” with so many people, in so many places, feeling thin, weary, lost, lonely and bewildered.
Maybe we are simply asking the wrong question, and we’d be better off returning to, “What can we do?” And that is when, I think, we must soften our hearts and go out for a walk in the real, still sick, world. We will bundle up as necessary and we may stumble and fumble and slip a few times, but that glad, curlicued tail, our pink cheeks, and hearts-alive pumping will make us glad we made the effort to go out. Perhaps, on the walk, like mine this past (non-Snow Day Wednesday) we will walk past a local elementary school, in session for the day, and we’ll hear the whooping, and yipping, and joyful play in the snow, and we’ll remember that even unfulfilled hopes have glad alternatives.
So many of us are disgusted, frustrated, angry, exhausted, and in tears over the destructive nature of this endless pandemic. And, on top of all that, I’m keenly aware of pastors, mechanics, postal workers, medical professionals, teachers, factory line workers, therapists and myriad more who have had very little respite, some none at all. These dear ones, on the longest journey of all, who had no chance to pack or prepare, they need for us to come alongside them with a gift given in kindness. We can make their journey sweeter, if only we try.
We are heading out again into the wide beautiful world that’s still sick, and emerging into a new normal. We’re tasked with integrating the new with the things that have always been. I challenge us to hold on to hope, get out there and get moving — despite all the challenges, and please, make every effort to make the journey sweet.