Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Blizzard Effect

Raise your hand if you are completely and utterly disgusted with winter and want it just to be OVER.

A little higher, please. I can't see you behind the alps that have taken over your house.

When I was a teenager still living at home in Connecticut, a winter storm like no other hit the state with a vengeance. Growing up on a main street in a large city, there was normally a steady flow of traffic day and night. I used to fall asleep to the soothing smack of car tires leaning too close to the sewer grates across the street from my bedroom windows. But on that day in the winter of 1978, no cars dared to tread through the mountains of snow that had obliterated any indication of a lane separation.

The thing about being snowed in – which can mean basically shut in - is that everyone around you is in the same boat, and being creatures of habit, we can only stay inside for so long.  In 1978 my dad wasn’t able to open his business, school and many other events had been cancelled, and the governor declared a state of emergency. What else was there to do except bundle up and take a walk in the middle of a street that, any other time, would have certainly been treacherous to say the least?

That day we encountered strangers who became nameless friends for a moment. I remember thinking how odd it was to see my parents talking and joking with people they had never met. It was as if the mounting snow had cast a spell on everyone we met that day, compelling them to stop and share their stories.

Just like in that mass of white on our Connecticut street more than 35 years ago, I found myself wandering outside this past weekend in search of – of what? Certainly not any sign of spring. What I found was better than spring. Well, at least as good as spring. It was the sight of simple connections being made, neighbors clearing each other’s driveways and walkways, or simply chatting in the middle of a quiet, deserted street. There wasn’t much street anyway, just walls of giant drifts surrounding our homes, yards and mailboxes.

The echo of neighbors taking time to greet each other, even if it was to commiserate over having no place to put this stuff, was a reminder for me that we humans still need these connections. It’s not the worst thing to be forced to slow down and pay attention to something other than our cell phones or iPads.

Some folks are lucky to live in a neighborhood that just clicks. Their children are in and out of each other’s homes, often bringing the parents into the loop where friendships are formed and potlucks become the norm.  These folks don’t have to look for someone to talk to when winter stops by for a foot or two. They probably have a phone tree to alert each other about the neighborhood snowman building competition or chili cook-off.

There is a lot to distract us from having actual face-to-face conversations these days. Thanks to the electronics that many of us have become addicted to, it’s easier to send a text than make a call. It’s more efficient to dash off a quick email rather than send a personally written note. I worry about this so-called progress and what it is teaching our offspring.  Maybe that sounds dour for a humor column. I guess that’s why, as much as I (along with many of you) have cursed the volume of precipitation we’ve been bombarded with this winter, I also welcome the blizzard effect that stops us in our tracks and finds us reaching out, if only for a few brief moments.

It may not be a neighborhood potluck or even a sign of spring, but in the midst of winter’s blanket it is nice to see a sign that we really are looking out for each other.

In the meantime, I think I'll start some chili, just in case...

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