I remember building a snowman in my backyard with my older sister when I was about 5 years old. It was there that snow became the great equalizer. While she piled together the bottom third of our snowman, I took the opportunity to plot my big moment of revenge for all the times I was too little to be noticed.
I packed together a small mound of snow in my tiny five-year-old fingers and slowly approached the victim prowler-like, slowly and deliberately. With her back turned away, in the perfect kneeling position, she was now exactly my height—and busily packing the snow. I quickly arrived at the glorious summit of Mt. Kathy and (WHOMPF) smushed the snowball right in her face, a direct hit! A blow for the munchkins! I screamed a five-year-old high-pitched squeal as the snow dripped down her glasses onto her cheeks. Even the defeated older sister seemed proud of her little brother, as she smiled at my delight. Of course, that didn’t stop her from pummeling the crap out of me in the moments that followed. Regardless, it was my finest childhood hour.
I always loved the snow, not for my shining moment alone, but for the after-effects it produced. As a child I’d come home after hours of playing football in the snow and would simply horrify my mother with how wet I was.
“Take those clothes off! You’re going to catch pneumonia!”
She’d make me take a hot bath and then she’d cover me up in a blanket and give me a mug of hot chocolate, and although we didn’t have a fireplace, the heater in the kitchen served me well. It was a warm feeling that only a mother could give to her child. Some time ago on a retreat, my friend Jerry reminded me of those times of childhood and motherly love. As he and I sat by the fire after being in the cold, the warmth of it enkindled those memories for us, and made us value the snow that we loved and the mother that we enraged.
Even as an adult, I need not concern myself with the scary feelings that snow brings with it, like how I’m going to get home in the mess of the sidewalks or roadways, how I didn’t bring my boots, how cold and wet I’m going to be as I walk to and from the subway, how shoveling my walk is going to be a pain.
No, snow is a prayerful moment. It’s a time when we open our homes for folks to come in out of the cold and share in the fires of our love. Everything stops, dies in a sense, to a newness of white, a purity of design, where the small are no greater than the tall, when the child in all of us revels in a mother’s love. The snow allows neighbors to meet, pitching in to dig out each other’s cars. It is God’s reminder to us that as the world grows, we all need to put on a new self, quiet our hearts, and provide each other with warmth when the harsh cold chaps our skin, dampens our spirit, or slows us down.
This winter, I’ll celebrate snow as a heavenly gift. And, of course, I’ll throw some snowballs at my sister. And scream in delight like a five-year-old.