The “historic” blizzard is behind us, and most of us are resuming our regular schedules, albeit with a few sore backs from shoveling.
Children delight in the accumulating piles of white, of course, but we all know that winter storms like this cause great inconvenience, threaten the safety and health of many, and can have a significant impact on countless businesses. Schedules are rearranged, appointments are cancelled, and we stock up on supplies in case the power goes out. Hardly circumstances that we welcome.
If a storm such as this causes disruption however, it also brings a reminder of how much we take for granted, and how easily we are tempted to believe that we are somehow in control of our lives. How many times, when the power has gone off, do you still instinctively reach for the light switch when entering a room, only to remember that there is no electricity there at your fingertips?
My first year out of college, when I was teaching school in Vermont, I lived in a house without indoor plumbing and heated only by two small and inefficient woodstoves. There was, at least, electricity. At the time it was an adventure and a bracing challenge, particularly as winter descended. But I confess that I grew weary in February of returning home in the late afternoon to a very cold house where the fires had long since died in the woodstoves. One afternoon, I even discovered a thin crust of ice forming in my cat’s water dish. The cat never complained.
Ultimately, it was a profoundly rewarding year. Water was not something to turn on and off whenever I wanted, but a precious commodity carried into the house daily from the spring outside, then carefully dispensed for washing and drinking. I had a much closer connection to the source of my heat, as filling the wood box and chopping wood for kindling became essential parts of the daily routine. For several years after that experience, I never turned up a thermostat or turned on a water faucet without reflecting on how much was required to bring those elements essential to my survival to my fingertips. That was years ago. And of course, now it is easy to let the faucet run too long. It is easier, when I am chilly, to turn up the thermostat rather than go upstairs to get a sweater. I forget.
Until a storm comes. And then I am reminded. I am reminded of how much I take for granted. I am reminded of how often I have easy and regular access to so much of what makes life not only possible, but also comfortable. I am reminded of the millions of persons for whom access to water, heat, or shelter, is a daily struggle, not a temporary inconvenience. I am reminded of all the ways I can act responsibly when the power is on and water is running. I am reminded of ways I can reorder my life, and of gifts I can give that will benefit those without the basic necessities of life. And finally, in the midst of the storm, I am grateful to God; grateful for all that I have, and even for the wind and the white snows that bring me to a place of remembering and renewed appreciation.