Columns, Grace Notes

Remember that you are dust

I place an animated wire deer sculpture in my backyard during the winter to lend a little variety to my view of the winter landscape out my windows. For several hours every evening, the deer is illuminated with tiny white lights, and its head repeatedly lowers toward the ground and then rises back up. When the snow depth almost reached the belly of the deer, I noticed that it was making snow angels as it lowered and raised its head. Welcome to the winter of 2010-11.

The amount of snow, ice, and cold to which we Twin Cities’ residents have been subjected this winter has been impressive. Very little imagination is required for us to be in solidarity with people in other parts of the country, where the winter weather has actually been worse than it has been here. Actually, this winter seems like the most “normal” winter we’ve had in years.

I can’t help feeling that people (like me, sometimes) seem to look at winter differently now, as if it is an affront to our existence and occurs simply to make our lives more difficult.

Jean Johansson

While I was growing up in Minneapolis, when winter arrived we expected it to snow. A lot. And to be cold. A lot. We didn’t even consider the possibility that outdoor skating rinks would be closed in December and January due to warm weather and melting ice, as has been the case in recent years. That just wouldn’t be winter.

The entire time I attended public school in Minneapolis only one “snow day” was declared, and that was when I was a senior in high school. When I was in elementary school, I had what I consider a couple of “reverse” snow days. Instead of spending fewer hours in school, I spent more, because I was allowed to bring my lunch to school when the temperature dropped below zero. I qualified for that privilege because I lived six blocks from school, one of the longer distances walked by students to get to school. Those were the days when students in grades 1-6 had an hour mid-day to walk home, eat lunch, and get back to school.

It was always uphill

Walking to and from elementary school in the winter could be fun. After the snow reached a significant depth on the boulevards, I used to tread to school on top of those mounds of snow, instead of on the sidewalk. If I misjudged, and the boulevard snow mound was still too soft from newly fallen snow to support my weight, I’d break through and get a bootful of snow. If the snow had made it through a freeze/thaw cycle, it was hard and crunchy and as I walked along I enjoyed the view from my higher vantage point.

I can’t help feeling that people (like me, sometimes) seem to look at winter differently now, as if it is an affront to our existence and occurs simply to make our lives more difficult. Meteorologists on local news broadcasts don’t just tell us that a storm is heading our way, they make that bit of news as dramatic as possible. No wonder we feel a sense of panic after listening to them and head for the grocery store to stock up on “essentials” like potato chips.

Let’s face it, winter does make our lives more challenging. But this winter has done a good job of preparing me for the beginning of the contemplative season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. That day, when I will be reminded of my mortality, will be followed by 40 days in which, with varying degrees of commitment, other Christians and I will engage in the discipline of Lent: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. Again I will reflect on what life is all about, how being a Christian undergirds my existence, that it is possible to live with less, that sharing is the better way, that we’re all in this together.

I will remember that I am dust, that to dust I shall return, and, during the time in between, I should concentrate on not just gathering dust.

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