Two feet of snow fell in Salem, Massachusetts early this week. Schools shut down, parking bans were set, even a driving ban was established by the State, and people prepared for the coming “snowpocalypse” by shopping for extra essentials in case utilities went down, or we were snowed in for an extended time. Stores shelves were emptied of the essentials, and not enough snow shovels and rock salt for the sidewalks could be stocked. Home Depot sold out their 20 pallets of rock salt in a few short hours.
It snowed the predicted 24” over the course of a day and half. We shoveled snow. We found places to park the cars. All the neighbors were out shoveling. People who had not seen each other all year were talking and telling jokes. People who typically only passed each other as busy hard-working and grumpy shadows were helping each other. One neighbor got upset and yelled about where the snow and the cars should go. Later he came back and apologized for his behavior, and we invited him over for a beer. When the storm had passed, we walked downtown before the cars were cleared out, and we used the freshly plowed streets as our sidewalks, walking in the middle of road like gunslingers in a spaghetti western. We joined a boisterous crowd of people eating free “American Chop Suey” at one of the few open local restaurants. Then we trudged home in the dark, and leapt backwards into snow banks to make snow angels, but got buried in the powder instead.
This is what you do, when there is a blizzard in New England.
People, who do not normally talk to each other, suddenly act as long time friends. They shovel each other out of the deep snows. They help find parking for one another. They laugh, tell jokes about the supposed calamity, and chum around as though it were a tailgate party at a Patriots game. Everyone gets a little more kid-like, and a little less serious. They all have the day off, and play in the snow for a little bit. Despite the hard work of shoveling out, and snow-blowing and plowing they treat each other better than all the rest of the year.
What creates this unique peacemaking moment called a “blizzard?”
I want to suggest one possible reason for this redemptive, reconciliatory power in the storm. On the average day, we trudge through our busy lives with jobs we struggle with, bills we cannot afford, and painful relationships; and we stand in a place no one else can understand – no one else can identify with. Our view of our life is ours alone, and no one sees it like we do. They can only identify in bits and pieces with the struggles we are going through. Their politics are different than our politics. Their religious views are different than ours. They are an Other we cannot understand, and we are the Other they cannot understand. But, then one day a blizzard comes, and disrupts our little world. We walk outside, and there, an entire neighborhood is standing in the street, looking at snowdrifts piled 5’ to 10’ high. We are all disrupted, and looking at the same snow, which is burying all of our cars, sidewalks, and doorways; and making our normally mundane lives a cartoon-like adventure. We throw snowballs. We make snow angels. We walk downtown together for the free American Chop Suey, and we sit and have a beer together. We might even apologize if we get a little out of hand. Heaven arrives, because we are standing on the same reference point, and our neighbor has suddenly become our neighbor, rather than that Other guy, who can’t possibly understand my struggles.
A blizzard changes the point of reference for our life for a day, and we see other people as comrades, because they too see the world from the same reference point we do. They for a moment cease to exist in our eyes, in what Emmanuel Levinas called, “the infinite distance of the stranger.”
I dream of a world where people can learn to embrace and accept the Other without the blizzard. For now, I am thankful for the storm.
“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthains 5:18)