It’s a snowy day, the first of the season. I was up early, doing my morning pages and watching the snow and wondering if I’d venture out for my usual Wednesday morning men’s group session. And then I remembered another snowy day, almost 18 years ago. I dug out what I’d written that day. So much changes over two decades, but then again, not much.
At 5 am, the rain is laced with sleet. On a normal day, I treasure the stillness and solitude of 5 am. I’ve been known to choke the pendulum on the Regulator clock into silence and pull the plug on our tabletop fountain, their tick, tock, drip, and splash too garish in the early morning calm; I’ve strained to hear tranquil rain above the hum of refrigerator in the next room and jetliner six miles up. Today, with the weather on the fence, curiosity outweighs my need for solitude, and I admit muted TV weather watchers into my journaling and prayer time. I watch the growing list of school closings and let Doppler images compete with Nehemiah, fasting in captivity, mourning his beloved Jerusalem. I contemplate how I will spend the day, if the weather breaks my way.
By 6:30, rain and sleet give way to snow, and white accumulates on lawn and street. Local schools are closed, and I intercept my teenage son on his way to the shower. I go back to bed. Snow is a gift, not least for the chance of extra sleep.
At 8, I wake again. The world is white—every trunk and branch and twig. My youngest is awake. He turns four today and already has two unplanned presents: a snow day, and a big brother to share it with. If he were older and self-entertaining, my love and I might stay in bed till noon. I fantasize, but not for long.
How will I spend this snow day? I could brave the slippery streets and clump around the office in hiking boots and jeans and bulky sweater, one of the male majority who consider ourselves essential to the economy and our driving skills well above average. I could stay home and chafe at the inconvenience, trapped in childcare and domesticity. I’ve done both.
Or I can accept this day as a gift, six-pointed grace. I call the office and say I’m staying home. “Call if you need me.” They won’t, and I won’t mind.
In all honesty, I should confess that I’m underemployed right now and would have had to take a day or so off anyway. But I’d stay home even if it were a busy week.
The snow took out a pine tree, laid it neatly on the path that switchbacks down to the kids’ fort. Most of the pines in my oak woods lean and droop on a good day, and this giant’s snow heavy top got the better of its roots. An oak, itself an affront to gravity leaning 40 degrees off plumb, snagged the top 15 feet off the pine on its way down. That lethal widowmaker hangs 30 feet in the air, its 8” diameter butt-end a jagged warning flag of yellow against black bark, green needles, and gray sky. Come spring, we’ll have to build a new stretch of trail through the poison ivy, briars, and deadfall. Come spring, we’ll have muddy shoes and pants to clean as the four-year-old climbs the newly formed mountain of roots and explores the crater they once occupied.
The snow makes disappointing sledding. We tromp through the woods to explore the downed tree, bombarded by soggy tufts of slush from the canopy. Wet cold hands soon bring us inside. We make cake and cookies for the birthday celebration. I do a workout, some writing, some housework, enjoying the slow pace of a snow day.
I’ve had a lot of snow days in the past two years, though few with real snow. Leave without pay. Not enough work. Days when I stayed home and played with my son or took him to the zoo. Days when I painted the house. Days when I wrote. A long Gulf Coast vacation.
Those days are joy; I relish the re-creating freedom and opportunity. Loss of income is a serious downside, to be sure. But the nights of waking in dry-mouthed, heart-pounding fear of unemployment have been rare. I more often feel on the threshold of something exciting.
Chronologically, I’m on the threshold of Modern Maturity, which will be arriving in my mailbox any day now. But my snow days are not about withdrawal and winding down. They are days of discovery—that I have creative gifts, healing gifts, spiritual gifts to be nurtured and used.
In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis says of his fellow bus travelers, “They were all fixed faces, full not of possibilities, but of impossibilities.” That is the face I see in the mirror that scares and haunts me. Gaunt, tight, sunken cheeked, steeled against the world, seeing only today and an endless string of todays.
More than most, I’ve resisted change and run from risk. Once I wore a mustache for 21 years; having grown it to spite my father, I forgot what I looked like underneath and couldn’t make the leap to rediscover myself or him. I count my life as two decades of childhood, two of stagnation, and one of belated climbing out of ruts. Snow days are for climbing out of ruts.
And what of my next decade? Where will it take me? Patching up my dis-integrated life is a priority. I am tired of this piecemeal life in which the way I earn a living interferes with the way I find fulfillment. With Frost, “My goal in living is to unite my avocation and my vocation…” To write, to serve and heal hurt children, to love, to worship and pray—that is the description of my dream vocation. Snow days are experiments and practice for my next career, whose outlines I barely discern and whose details I have not yet imagined.
The next day, streets are clear, schools open, and life back to routine. In separate casual conversations, two people I barely know ask if I made it in to work the day before. The first seems shocked and dismayed when I say I could have, but didn’t; with the precision of a practiced commuter, she details for me her route, the road conditions, and just how many extra minutes her trip had taken. The other, like me, had voluntarily stayed home and enjoyed every minute. Her face is all smile as she recounts telling her husband she might just quit work and stay home for good. Yeah!