Stranded by snow – and seeing the value of community

December 24, 2008 | John Burbank

Reprinted from the Everett Herald:

For a lot of us, these past ten days of snow and cold have been a bit trying, with lost days of work and school.  Our usual holiday plans are all messed up, work unfinished, homework undone, holiday concerts and plays unperformed, parties ungotten to, presents unbought.  But for many people, the same people, that is, US, these past ten days have been a rebirth of community.  Especially for kids, the snow has created a rebirth of wonder.  A wonder including sledding, making snowmen, getting soaking wet, and spending days with those strange adults known as their parents who usually go off to work just as soon or even before the kids go off to school.

Snow is making us calm down.  It is taking the hurry out of our lives.  At our house, we have been waking up as usual way before sunrise.  There are no cars on the roads and all surface noise is muffled by the snow.  It is a silent night.    We can’t roar off to work.  We might walk, or wait a long time for the bus (and it might not come), or carpool in the one car with chains, or just figure out how to work at home while drinking hot chocolate.  A neighbor up the street may be stuck in the snow, so the thing to do is just put some boots on and go out and help push his car off the street.

Our neighborhood has come alive in the snow.  The streets don’t belong to our cars, they belong to us!  Young kids and their parents are sledding down streets either legally or informally closed off to cars.  As a former candidate for the legislature, I was pleased to see many of my yard signs finally put to good use….. for sliding.  Those signs have very slick surfaces seemingly specifically designed for rapid rides down the hills.  Teenagers are snowboarding. My niece went out cross country skiing down the neighborhood streets.  We walked a few miles on Sunday, shopping, talking, and just enjoying the air.

In the last ten days we have shifted from a consumer society to a neighborhood of friends.  With UPS bogged down and mail-orders threatening to arrive late, if at all, we are going to the neighborhood shops  to buy books, clothes, toys, and food, to rent movies, to sip coffee, and to enjoy the corner bar.  If you are walking home in the snow, you don’t need to worry about exceeding the alcohol limit for legal driving.  You can stand in the middle of the street chatting with your neighbors for a half an hour.  You can help out building a snow man or giving a running start to the next sled filled with kids and parents all squeezed together.

Nature keeps a careful calendar.  Last Sunday was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.  Now the sun sets each day slightly later than the previous.  Especially in these dark days, the snow enables us to appreciate the beauty of our natural world, both during the day and at night, with our urban neighborhood well lit with the reflections between clouds and snow.  We can’t ignore our neighbors…. We see them out sliding down the street, even at midnight!

On this day before Christmas, the snow forces us to realize that we are all in this life together.

The snow does not discriminate between the powerful and the powerless, between the wealthy and the middle class and the poor.  It is the great leveler.

But turns in the weather can certainly be rough on those homeless or inadequately housed, who are losing income they can’t afford to lose because they can’t get to work or their place of business is closed….  This isn’t nature’s fault.  It is ours.  It is man’s society that creates and enforces the disparities between us that create poverty and desperation, whether that be the Romans in Palestine 2000 years ago, the robber barons at the turn of the 20th century, or the crony financiers and their enablers of the past decade.   On this December 24th, the snow has created a birth of wonder for our children.  In the next year, we as a people must create a new rebirth of wonder for our society.  Happy holidays!

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