(Yes, I know I missed Advent and Christmas. I’m having serious processing work around the theology of Jesus’ birth and I’m not ready to write about it yet. Until I’ve done that work, I couldn’t be Adventish or Christmassy, but I couldn’t insult the seasons by ignoring them either.)
We finally got real, serious snow, for the first time in at least a year, a foot or so, and it’s still coming down. It’s hard to describe the quality without resorting to Inuktituk snow-vocabulary, which I do not know but which certainly would include a term for “heavy dense fine snow which, given a day to settle, will make for superb sledding”.
But for right now, it needs to be removed from at least some surfaces if we’re to get on with life: driveways, streets, walkways, steps. It wasn’t a big a job as it might be because the next door neighbours had already had someone plow out our mutual driveway. I had only to clear my own parking space and make a boot route* for the mail-person. This is serious: I have goodies incoming from Ebay.
And so this morning, I put on my snow suit — alpaca socks, bibbed snow pants, old parka, ear-flapped hat, gloves-under-heavy-mittens, and wool scarf — slipped on my warmly lined rubber boots and headed out, shovel in mitt-hand, most purposefully and with a glimmer of dancing light in my soul.
It’s been a long time since I shoveled like this. It used to be a job that I bitched about while snuggling it close to my own chest. I had my ways, learned over years (“clear wide, in case it’s one of*those* winters”) and I loved the intense solitude of the work. Shoveling snow is the best form of meditation I know, better even than sorting children’s socks, because your mind gets out of the way and it’s body-and-soul working hard but pleasurably with each other, a synthesis of vision.
Robert Frost got at this in his poem on splitting wood, “Two Tramps in Mud Time”. When it works — and shoveling snow almost always works for me — the work is more joy than duty. It settles something in the soul, lets things drift into their proper orientation, as the snow drifts in its wind-appointed patterns. Things come together in work like this, and opposites shake hands and make peace with each other. It’s easy to toss away a resentment and heave fear onto the growing pile of snow-boulders. It’s a safe place out here in the quiet white, with only the occasional car going by. Just me and God and the white stuff.
This morning, what was settling into my soul was my own aging. My arthritic thumb kept its mouth shut and my back and shoulder muscles, built well up from all my work in the pool, enjoyed the lifting and tossing, feeling fatuously pleased with themselves. But while I probably have years to live, I may not have years of being able to shovel out a foot of heavy powder without much effort. My body has begun to hum little tunes of decline, which is hardly surprising given my age. I have, in fact, been very lucky in being physically years younger than my chronology would predict. Good genetics, not lifestyle choices.
Still, sooner or later, I must decline and die. This prospect has never much bothered me, and I view as foolishness the scrambling of my aging cohort to stave off the inevitable. We’re finally starting to realize that maybe, just maybe, digging our claws into mere existence like a drowning person clinging onto a life preserver may not be the best use of our personal or corporate resources. I am going to get old. Shoveling snow may, in a year or ten, be beyond me. Nu, so what else is new?
I can mourn in advance or I can simply enjoy each chance as it comes. Next year, maybe my arthritis will have seized up hip or knee or shoulder, or I may have serious cardiac issues. Tomorrow I may get squashed into pulp by some fool on the 401. And the point is?
The point is that whatever my doubts about faith, no matter how much I squabble with church, no matter how I find “real” theology as informative and interesting as user manuals, no matter how unpalatable I find the grimly sweet candy-pink icing or the weak sweet tea or the rock-heaving all-managing righteousness of contemporary Christianity — come whatever may, I do believe in a life after this one. It’s not just wishful thinking but something that goes bone-deep and is not “pie in the sky when you die”. Not one bit. I think C.S. Lewis got it right when he proposed that our soul-work begins in this life but continues in the next, as we are set to rights and become all that God intended us to be.
And so I can lift each shovelful knowing that the effort might send my cardiac muscles into quivering spasms and drop me dead as a doorknob in my own driveway. I do hope not; I’d sooner clean out the closets and arrange my banking beforehand. But life and death will be as they will be. My job is to do the work set before me with humble joy and without worrying about getting it exactly right, and to trust God for the rest. Even if I still can’t say something Wise and Meaningful about the Incarnation.
So just for today, I will let my mind drift away like a helium balloon on a very long string (and if I drop the string, too bad), and my body will take joy in its continuing well-being and my soul will continue on the path of healing and learning, in age, all the lessons youth never taught it. Believe it or not, it’s *fun*, and I expect it only gets more so on the other side.
The snow is still coming down, but lightly. I may put my snow suit back on in a little while and go out and widen the boot route. Or maybe not.
(In loving memory of Deborah Griffin Bly, who is giving the pitch note to the heavenly choir.)
*CBC’s “Wanted Words” came up with the useful expression “boot route” to describe a walkway cleared exactly one shovel’s-worth wide, to allow for foot passage as long as you don’t waddle like a duck.