The first serious snowfall of winter always energizes me.
Maybe part of me never stopped being nine years old. That’s how old I was when the Christmas Blizzard of 1982 hit, transforming the world around me with sudden rapidity. A six-block drive to pick up Grandma became an epic journey in my Dad’s crawling Subaru. A bicycle left on the back porch disappeared beneath a carpet of white, except for one tip of one handle. The entire back yard became a frozen world to explore, one that my sisters and I – proper “Star Wars” fans, all – immediately declared to be Hoth from “The Empire Strikes Back.”
In the years since then, I’ve learned about the joys of freeing high-centered cars, salting frozen sidewalks at 6 a.m., and wrenching your spine while shoveling snow. (Snow shovels make a very inadequate cane, by the way.) None of it has deterred me very long from my basic thesis. If anything, it’s deepened the complexity, setting off two overlapping voices in my head:
“It’s wintertime. What a white, beautiful and lovely place the world is.”
“It’s wintertime. What a cold, chill and deadly place the world is.”
The latter cannot be denied. This is a time of year that can freeze people outside or drain them inside, as the dark nights lengthen. It’s a time when we become all too aware of the people who should still be here celebrating with us, when the empty chair takes on a presence of its own and summons more ghosts than a dozen “Christmas Carols.”
Which is why I maintain that this is still the perfect time for a celebration of universal love.
I admit, this may take some explaining.
Almost every belief and tradition turns on the lights this time of year to hold back the cold and the darkness. Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Yule, or something else, there’s this deep-set need to push back against the encroaching night and create beauty. The light kindled stands all the more bright and lovely by contrast, even without five marching Snoopys, four Santa Nativities, three melting lights, two inflatable turtledoves, and a partridge in a floodlit pear tree – all of them on the same yard.
But anyone can plug lights in a socket and “ooh” at the result. It doesn’t necessarily follow that we also turn our thoughts to tidings of comfort and joy, especially in times when the thermometer would have to be heated to reach two digits.
But it’s all the more fitting that we do. Because this is the time of year when love takes guts.
Love comes easy when the sun is shining and the world is green. The barriers are down. It’s when we relax, when we court, when we find it easiest to visit on the spur of the moment. Why not?
But when it takes an act of will and a thick pair of boots just to make it from the front door to the mailbox … that’s when even the smallest gesture takes on new meaning. The natural instinct is to stay huddled inside in the warmth – and we have to ignore that instinct if we want to be able to help a friend, a neighbor, a stranger freezing on the street.
We expose ourselves every time we do that. But we also spread the warmth to places where it otherwise could not go.
Anyone who lives in Colorado, I think, knows that it’s during the times of extremes that you find out what your neighbors are made of. Flood or drought, wildfire or blowing snow, this is when you see the open-armed charity and almost selfless courage begin to emerge. It’s when a community is tested, to see whether you truly have a community at all or just a bunch of people living together.
This particular test is more predictable than a rising river, more enduring than a blaze in the woods. So what better time to celebrate brotherhood and goodwill? Sure, church scholars talk about how Christ was probably born in the spring or the early fall (to draw from my own faith for a moment), but the story of love coming to a hostile world would still belong in the winter, even if no other tradition had demarcated the territory and lit the darkness.
This is where risky, selfless, muscular love belongs.
And if that love comes with strong vertebrae and a snow shovel – so much the better.
See you in Hoth, everyone. May the season be with you.