Whether you’ve been following the weather reports from afar or are living through the frigid, snow-filled winter in Massachusetts, you’ll understand why the widespread complaining is warranted. Snow mounds higher than street signs, narrow, shovel-wide pathways snaking through the walls that rise up from every sidewalk, two lane roads turned to one, ice, weeks of temperatures well-below freezing, school cancellations, business closings, disruptions to schedules, nightmare commutes on the slow-running or no longer running buses and trains, lines of traffic, the list goes on and worsens with each weekly blizzard. My intention of this blog, however, is not to complain, it is to express gratitude for the one thing that the snow always brings, the one thing I think we miss most in our lives.
A week ago I walked home from a class at the gym. I climbed over snow mounds and across unshoveled walkways, stepping into the street only when sidewalk travel was too treacherous knowing that the cars whizzing along the narrow roads had enough trouble squeezing past the two way traffic without pedestrians blocking the way. My home is located on the corner of two streets. Though both are plowed, it’s not uncommon to find a pile of slush at the intersection of the two, spilled over from the giant mound piled on one end. I decided to walk past my front door and enter through the driveway to see whether or not I needed to shovel the street to make my morning commute possible.
By the large mound at the end of my street a man stood staring through the camera lens he’d mounted atop a tripod. I thought it odd that someone would be out in the moonlight taking pictures and decided to approach him to see what exactly he was photographing. He commented about the height of the mound, said he’d never seen anything like it. I asked him if he lived nearby and he pointed to the house just across the road from mine. I smiled, stuck out my gloved hand and said, “Hi. I’m Carmela, I’m your neighbor.”
He’d been living beside me for a year. For months I’d seen his wife walking with her children down the front steps on their way to school each morning, watched the sun glinting off the blue siding of their home, but never ventured over to say hello. My simple introduction in the street that night opened up what might have been hours of conversation if it weren’t for the cold. He asked me where I was from. When I told him he began scanning through his memory for names of people I may know. He mentioned a first name and stared up at the street light trying to remember the last. I finished the name for him and he met my eyes in disbelief. Although we grew up six years apart in different cities, we both shared a mutual friend who had died tragically in his twenties ten years prior. Together we brought him to life with our reminiscing in the yellow-orange haze of the street lights.
Just before I headed in for the evening, he let me know to call on him or his wife if I ever needed a cup of sugar or a big burly man. I smiled in gratitude and extended the same support should they ever be in need.
And this is the one thing that makes the mountains of snow seem not so bad: it brings people together.
In the past three weeks of constant shoveling, I have met more of my neighbors than in the five years that I’ve occupied this apartment. In one of the first storms my across the street neighbor’s dog came trotting up to me and lounged by my boots as I petted her back and scratched her neck. Her owner came shortly after and explained she feared Roxy, as she is called, being hit by a car because she is hard of hearing. I explained that I too struggled to hear and would watch out for her, a fellow kindred spirit. Another neighbor who lives to the left of my home met me halfway as we fought through the feet of snow to shovel the sidewalk between our houses and now after years of blank glances, we wave and smile to each other in passing. There were the neighbors from up the street with children– one with three boys who climbed and surfed across the mounds I’d built like a wall across the sidewalk and another who is also a school teacher and shared my woes of losing summer vacation time. There are many others whose faces I finally recognize and now greet in passing.
We have become busier than ever before– heading to work or school, constantly connected via email, social media, cell phones and as a result more disconnected from each other, often from those closest to us. Though I too have grown weary of all the snow, I am grateful for the fact that it offers us a temporary disruption of our days, brings us outside, and brings us closer together. We shut ourselves off from opportunity, from interaction, too often in a world of fences, locked doors, and separate lives. Perhaps we could all reach out to each other more, even when the sun is shining and the streets are bare. Perhaps if we did we would find that no matter how different our lives appear we really are all connected.