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Dr. Hallowell Explains How Snow is a Metophor for Feeling Buried, and Finding Beauty

I am writing to you all from my home in Arlington, Massachusetts, where we have been given three to four feet of snow over the past two weeks. As I look out my windows now, the snow is drifted in places higher than I am, and I am six feet. When I let my dog, Ziggy, a Jack Russell who has ADD for sure, outside, he instantly sinks down, invisible under the snow, until, like the Phoenix, he bounds up and leaps around the yard, jubilant to have a new type of playground. He can’t find his usual spots to make his deposits, so, imaginative fellow that he is, he marks out new spots. Little does he know, they will soon be snowed over as well.

There’s a metaphor or two in here. What do we do when we are buried? I’ve been reading Joan Chittister lately. I recommend her highly. She is a Catholic nun, but she writes for everyone about life’s deeper matters. She writes about living in uncertainty, about needing faith in possibility more than in additional data, as we grapple with what we must grapple with.

I’ve had a lot to grapple with this month; perhaps some of you have as well. Life does offer up difficulties and unpleasant surprises on a fairly regular basis. Long ago I gave up asking why, as there is no definitive answer provided to us humans, at least while we are alive. We are left simply to cope with what difficulties arise, be they a lot of snow or a lot of other stuff.

What do we do when we feel buried under it all, such that we cannot find our usual resting places, our usual spots of repose? What do we do when our familiar landscape disappears under drifts?

I take a lesson from Ziggy. When I go out into life and find myself quickly sinking, I try to spring up and bound around just as Ziggy does, until I find a hospitable spot.

To do this I need muscles of resilience, muscles of hope and some kind of inner spring or shock absorber that propels me from the dark place I find myself buried in into the glittering new landscape the snow, all those difficulties, have created.

That’s the part I too easily overlook. When the snow falls, especially when it falls as heavily as it has of late, it creates a sparkling, twinkling, and in the sun at times blinding bedazzlement of beauty. It creates a new world, a world quite changed from the previous world we knew. If I stop feeling put upon–all that shoveling, all that digging out of difficulty!–and I take a moment to see what is right outside my door, and see it in the way I usually can’t, then I feel an invigorating wave of excitement, of energy, of hope. It is as if God (I believe in God, but if you do not, substitute the word Nature, or whatever word feels right to you) has thrown me a lightning bolt, a radical message to wake up and see life, and perhaps live life, in a new way.

The modern response to just about everything is to gather up data, more and more data, and based upon that, well, gather more data, until somehow a plan emerges from the swirl of confusing, contradictory data.

Ziggy doesn’t see it that way. He simply bounds on to do what he wants to do.

I am trying to do like Ziggy, to see all this snow–and my difficulties–that way, as heralds of a new world. As messages to take heart, to rise up with a jubilant heart, eager to carry on. But more than carry on, to exult in my precious chance to do so, fully aware that the day will come when I can do no more.

For today, I give thanks to Ziggy, and to the mysterious forces that send the many messengers to us like Ziggy. I pray I will always have eyes to see them.

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