Snow Angels And Attitudes

The days are growing longer, but because of those bleak skies indigenous to much of upstate New York, we are inclined toward home and fire, with a warm wooly throw and a bowl of hot soup.   It is pleasant to watch from our favorite chairs as the snow flies, the wind whistles and cardinals perch on the feeders.  Lamps add brightness to the day, and books, TV or the ever-present I-phone games await our leisure.   

However — though it takes more effort and requires bundling up, it is also good to look from the outside in.  This time of year is like an artist’s charcoal rendering.  The tree limbs stand stark against the sky, every thorn on the climbing rose bush is vivid against the snow, nuthatches and finches at the feeders are making their subdued winter warbling, and    some of the neighborhood children are out sculpting snow angels via their snow suit-clad bodies, as our granddaughters might do if they were here.   If I look down from our hill behind the house, the lighted windows shine out welcoming warmth, and promise a cup of hot tea to warm the body and fuzzy slippers to ease the boot-weary feet.   With everything fed, I return inside feeling energized by the negative ions in that crisp air.  Of course, if it is like today; minus 3 with 25 mph wind gusts, getting those negative ions another day would be more comfortable.  Brrr!!

The heavy snow fall of two weeks ago apparently was a signal that we are now to take winter seriously.  It began Saturday morning with a few snow showers, and then there was an interlude of quiet.  I used that opportunity to do a few other outside chores.   Most activities, including church on Sunday, were cancelled Saturday due to the prediction of one to two feet of snow, ice, temperatures dropping below zero and 30-40mph winds.  We were expecting, and perhaps even anticipating, a snowed-in weekend.  The storm began on Saturday, just as predicted; shortly after lunch a fine, wet snow — almost a snowy mist — came down without pause.  After midnight, the snowflakes expanded, dropping over a foot of whiteness on everything.  By early afternoon, on Sunday though, the frenzy of flakes dwindled and we plowed the driveway and shoveled paths to the bird feeders and dog pen.   We weren’t snowed in for very long, but the below zero readings did come as promised and winter definitely caught our attention.

One of the things on the news prior to the storm was concern about those who are homeless.  This was on both local and national newscasts.  I think it is a good sign that in dire conditions we try to make sure that suffering is lessened.  But this does lead me to wonder; why is our concern only during times of emergency?   Might it be possible to plan ahead?  What triggers enough angst that we move into action?  What stirs us to actually take up the tools of helping, be those tools money, shelters, prayer, clothing donations or legislation?

Kerm and I are part of a community Prayer Chain composed of those who are open to praying for people in sickness or distress.  I have heard remarks that these can be gossip chains more than actual prayer chains, but I don’t sense that with this group.  The people I know on that Email list are sincerely convinced that prayerful petition is both helpful and life-changing for both the pray-er* and the pray-ee*.   But it does occur to me to ask myself—–how seriously do I pray?   Am I praying for someone with casual sympathy or am I truly invested in this prayer?  Dennis Lehane** said: “Sympathy is easy.  We have sympathy for starving children swatting at flies on the late-night commercials.  Sympathy is easy because it comes from a place of power {and comfort}.  Empathy, though, is getting down on your knees and looking someone else in the eye, and realizing that you could be them, and all that separates you is luck.”  I may be a bit judgmental in thinking that many philanthropists, looking for charitable tax breaks, probably fit into the sympathy category (as do I quite often), but it is more the Mother Theresa persona who understands empathy.  Most of us, I would guess, fall somewhere in between, depending on the persons and the situation.

Whether it is praying, delivering meals, finding coats for school children, writing letters to my Senator or providing counsel for someone in distress, what is my attitude — my reason — my investment in doing so?   Until my sympathy turns into empathy (seeing people as individuals rather than “the needy”, or “the elderly” or “the sick”) I think that I am probably not whole-heartedly helping a fellow human being.  I would guess that my prayers lack depth and my helping hands lack strength and purpose.  And multiplied by many like me, our efforts will continue to be seasonal and for emergencies until we move toward a more empathetic way of seeing people.  Perhaps the word in India for greeting someone is a good example.  Instead of just “Hello” it is “Namaste” which translates, “Whatever your outer appearance, I see and greet the soul in you.”***   Just a thought!

Last week while looking for a bit of information, I pulled out one of my old high school yearbooks (1956; I was a freshman).   That, of course, led to others in the stack, and I sat, looking at photos and reading all of the optimistic and kind, if slightly awkward, messages people wrote.  We all looked so very young!!  I couldn’t help smiling at those fresh, unmarked faces.  It does not seem possible that the youngsters we were then could possibly be the elders of today.   Photos of a slumber party (those who were there may remember the cow bells at 3 AM), pictures of 4-H camp, reminiscing about a hayride, and snap shots of people that I haven’t seen in many years; I was sort of overwhelmed with nostalgia.   It is my good fortune that I’ve been able to keep in touch with many friends from high school, and have lately reconnected with others after a gap of time.  But there are several about whom I wonder — Where are they?  Did they end up doing what they wanted to do or be?  Are they still with us?  There were so many good times and we had great dreams as we looked into a bright future that then seemed cloudless and sunny.   I wish I could gather us all together around a campfire where we could capture some of the ambiance of our growing-up years and share who we are now.  I think that at this age, we’d be very accepting of each other.    I am what I am and that’s what I am!” Popeye****

Earlier I mentioned our granddaughters and their skill at making snow angels.  In a year or two, they will be otherwise occupied.   I don’t think that I noticed our sons growing up as quickly as our grandchildren seem to be doing.  The youngest just became twelve years old and the oldest will very soon turn fifteen.  Because time seems to fly by is the best reason for daily gratitude and more awareness than most of us practice.  I hope that the girls will learn this early.  Life can tug and pull at us from many directions and we can fly through a day without really experiencing that day.  Unless we notice the beauty in the world around us, the goodness in people around us and the small wonderful miracles that happen around us, we will be missing much that would add depth and gladness to our lives no matter what age we may be.  And now — on to a new month!!

Carol may be reached at:

* — I think pray-er and pray-ee may not be actual words, but I am not averse to making up new words when it seems appropriate.

**Dennis Lehane—American novelist; wrote series of mystery stories and other novels.

***definition of” Namaste” is from Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

****Popeye —the sailor man — created in 1929 by Elzie Crisler Segar.

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