In Praise of Blizzards

Maybe That’s Why the Blizzard Remains the Best Natural Disaster of All, Spiritually Speaking

Mockingbird / 2.1.21

An especially appropriate excerpt from David Zahl’s Seculosity for days (like today) when the snow is too deep to measure (p. 98-100):

We need to talk about snow days. For all they cover up, snowstorms also expose a number of our less-than-fluffy pieties.

My own childhood snow days are cloaked in soft-focused wonder: a break from routine and school, a time to sled and build forts and drink hot chocolate. I think of Calvin and Hobbes, or Riley’s Minnesota memories in Pixar’s Inside Out.

They bear little resemblance to the snow days of adulthood. There is still beauty to behold and fun to be had, walks to be taken, new recipes to be attempted. But the good parts dissipate far more quickly, especially if you have small children.

In a hurricane or tornado, fear tends to take center stage. The potential for physical damage justifies the attention we divert from other areas of life, pardoning the inconvenience. In a snowstorm, however, once you’ve made it indoors, safety is rarely a factor. Snowflakes mainly represent an affront to our sense of control, a disruption of plans, unpleasant to the extent those plans have become enshrined. As such, they shine an uncomfortable light on our fragile enoughness.

Writer David Dudley puts it this way: “The snow cares not for your deadlines, your happy hour plans, your scheduled C-section. It wants only to fall on the ground and lie there. And it wants you to, too.”

On the flipside, I’ve been struck by how often the word freedom gets mentioned in conjunction with catastrophic weather. (Unless you live in Siberia or upstate New York). Freedom from what exactly is unclear, but presumably some sort of accusation related to our to-do list.

Make no mistake: the freedom to reconceive a day according to instinct and opportunity rather than obligation feels pretty good. Because in a proper blizzard, no one is getting any work done—which means that no one is going to overtake us in whatever race we’re running. They are snowed in, too. A blizzard is one of a small handful of circumstances that can absolve a person who’s trying to justify themselves by their occupation—that can melt the guilt of idleness (pun intended).

At least it should be. As technology has changed how we work, more and more of us refuse to accept the meteorological permission to relax. Instead, we scoff at the very thing that, more often than not, we’ve been vocally pining for. As long as we have an internet connection, the wheels can keep turning. And even when the power lines go down, every neighborhood contains that one retiree who has to shovel his driveway every five seconds, that one young lady who can’t not get her run in, opting instead to go full-Rocky, regardless of how ridiculous or dangerous it looks.

If the voice from the heavens has shouted STOP, but we can’t, no doubt it’s because the actual voice we’re heeding is that of our real boss, the slave-driver within. The true target of our religiosity comes into focus.

In such instances, it could be that we’re dealing not so much with an addiction to productivity or performancism as a fear of sitting still. Anything but silence, our souls and bodies cry out. Alas, not even our devices can fully restore our sense of frantic autonomy. Social media feeds slow to a crawl during a blizzard. There are only so many fireside snaps or accumulation time-lapses a person can tolerate.

Yet, maybe that’s why the blizzard remains the best natural disaster of all, spiritually speaking. The snow falls everywhere, irrespective of our plans and designs, yet remains stunningly personal, burrowing into our eyes and hair and nostrils. It puts our attempts to assert ourselves in perspective. To those who like sledding, the storm ushers in an occasion for joy — and to those who are tired or guilt-ridden, it brings rest.

That’s not all. Anyone who has taken a walk or a drive on the day after a massive snowfall will notice how sixteen inches of blanketing looks most beautiful in the places we know to be ugliest. Parking lots and strip malls, empty lots and cracked sidewalks, trash heaps and construction sites transform from eye-sores into pockets of enchanted calm. No other catastrophe possesses such redeeming magic; no other disaster leaves everything in its wake more beautiful rather than less. Barring Calvary, that is.


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