The second blizzard in four days has left me imprisoned in my house. As jailtime goes, it’s not a bad gig. Since, despite 40-mph winds, electric power has so far held out, I can venture out to the infinite universe of the web, hold humorous email conversations with my son and friends in the city, and thus wander away in my mind for as long as I care to.
When that gets old, I throw another log in the fire, and stare at the falling snow.
I think it was Petrarch who advocated the contemplative over the active life. It surely has its pleasures. One can think for more than five seconds at a time about an interesting idea – follow a thread of thought here or there, without undue haste – on occasion, even achieve understanding. To recall the trouble of work and other aspects of real life – with its noise, interruptions, chaos – is itself enjoyable.
Snow falls in silence. Members of the family move about the house quietly, like monks in a monastery, until something sparks a conversation, and then we stand around and laugh.
The blizzard has turned this group of opinionated inviduals into contemplatives. Place that in the “power of nature” category: no lesser force could achieve such a change.
In fact, we have been observing nature with a feeling somewhere between astonishment and admiration. The snow today was literally blinding: white-out conditions. The wind blew it sideways and in spouts. Even the snowplow crews were grounded because of the lack of visibility. Contemplation was the universal order of the day.
Nature’s ruling quality is unpredictability. We find ourselves in the grip of randomness, playthings of an immense and disordered force. So we forget our pride in wealth and in learning, we forget our freedom and other self-evident truths: all we can do is wait for the monster to be finished with us.
This is the most snow that has fallen in the Washington area since records have been kept. In my contemplative state, odd questions bubble up. Why this moment, and not some other? What is being shown to me by this display of colossal power, at this improbable time? Can there be meaning in random havoc?
Americans are an active people. Mine is an active family. Perforce, I lead an active life. There are good reasons for this. Even on the intellectual plane, the most effective ideas are polished against the hard surface of reality and society. The world is far more interesting than the inside of my head. Brooding on blizzards can be a form of dementia, in which one’s emotions get inserted into indifferent and objective things.
Eventually the snow will melt. The kids will go to school. I’ll return to work. Life will return to what we are pleased to call normal – noise, interruption, chaos. I’m good with that. Until then, I think I’ll throw another log in the fire, and contemplate.