Image by Tobias Bjerknes
On the first day of 2022, my thoughts match the scene outside my window - snowflakes in the wind. I want to gather them, organize them into something coherent - a whimsical snowman perhaps. Or a defensive snow fort. Or a deftly-aimed snowball. But for a moment, I sit and stare out the window, allowing my thoughts to play in the wind; to fall and dance. I will follow the random magic of my mental snow globe for a bit . . .
This morning my mom called. In her globe she was looking at the snowy memories of her childhood, riding across the Saskatchewan prairie in the cutter, off to the Christmas party at the one-room school house. She shared a story I'd never heard before - an accident in which a loose team of horses collided with their cutter, rolling it over. Her father opened the cutter door to hooves stabbing at them as the entangled horse kicked and struggled to free itself.
How was no-one hurt? I asked. Just one of those things, she replied.
How the world has changed since cutters and sleighs. In my mind's eye, I follow a cutter gliding across a white, moonlit prairie until eventually my reluctant imagination brings it to a road, an intersection perhaps, where grandpa yells 'whoa' and pulls the horses up to wait as a Tesla zooms by.
Everything feels juxtaposed today. The start of a new year in the midst of an old pandemic.
A weary world rejoices.
Does it, though?
Stories no longer seem to provide a balm. Not stories of manger births. Not stories of heroic nurses. Not stories of supportive communities and selfless neighbours. We discard old stories with restless impatience. Our new stories bare sharp edges. As we isolate ourselves to protect those who scoff, our loneliness grows into frustration. As hospitals fill with those who chose not to vaccinate, and surgeries and cancer treatments are cancelled, our frustration grows into anxiety. Eventually, almost inevitably, our anxiety turns to anger. We lash out like small children churlishly crying out for connection. We create chasms precisely where we long for bridges.
Last night, the cold air lacked the cleansing quality it often carries for me on New Year's Eve. The chill did not burn out the old to make room for the new. Rather, it stiffened my back and raised my head; not in anticipation of a fresh start, but in an unconscious resolve; a grim determination to carry on.
But isn't that the main ingredient of hope? The ability to raise our heads, to resolve to move forward and then to actually take a step. And another.
I shake the snow globe in my head, send the snowflakes flying again and now I see myself driving through a blizzard. The wind drives the snow at the windshield creating a hypnotic kaleidoscope that lulls me toward sleep. The heater and the steady thunk, thunk of the wipers sing me a lullaby. My fingers relax on the steering wheel. If I close my eyes for just a second, they will stop burning. In that long blink, the tires bounce against the edge of the ruts they have been following for miles. The skid sends my heart into my throat, reminds me that pulling off the road is no longer an option. I lean forward, tighten my grip, look past the flakes, past their mesmerizing pattern. I squint into the distance and see two red dots. Tail lights of the car ahead. I train my eyes on those, I refuse to see the storm. The blizzard is no less intense, but I have to look past it, or it will swallow me.
Time to put down my snow globe and take a step into this new year, whatever it brings. I'm going to try to look past the present storm - find one small thing to focus on and move forward.
I will leave you with a poem written in lighter times. And with it, hopefully, a smile.
A curtain of snow falls outside my window -
each silent flake a word -
hoping to be caught -
for such weather,
are already out there,
catching single words
on their tongues and
Short story writers hurl tightly packed snowballs with startling accuracy.
Novelists grumble at these antics as they bundle up and grab their shovels.
Someone has to clear a path through all these words.
"Word Storm" by Janny Thompson