Just as news of the return of once-popular home decorating show Trading Spaces hit the airwaves, the north and south regions traded their own spaces. As the temperatures dropped last week, New Orleanians experienced the frigid and dangerous conditions of their northern neighbors.
In a city – and even a region – unexperienced to manage snow and ice, disaster strikes. It’s an eerie feeling of displacement. As I learned of friends with power outages, the shutdown of the city and roadways, my first thought was of hurricane season. The same headlines made their appearance across media outlets – but in an unfamiliar time: winter. We are a people accustomed to inclement weather, but even New Orleans has its limits.
My second thought was of my own displacement. When I first moved to Saint Louis, the city experienced one of its worst winters. Campuses shut down as ice and snow accumulated to an extent that I – as a southerner – had only seen in images. I distinctly remember my first feeling of awe and amazement: I ran out into the cold, jumping through the snow, taking pictures on my phone. Campus security was patrolling, and I was stopped. The friendly officer reminded me to wear gloves, hat and scarf. Frostbite is a serious danger. In my excitement, I had run out of my building with only an unzipped jacket.
As I rounded the corner to return to my building, I noticed my car. Actually, what I noticed was that I couldn’t exactly see my car. I remembered the area where I had parked it, but that area was filled with snow piles. Somewhere beneath the mounds, I would uncover my Versa. But how? That was my singular thought. I had no shovel, no snow/ice scraper. Eventually, I would call a friend to rescue me from my dilemma.
That was seven years ago. I’d like to say I’m much more experienced in the area of winter hazards. But that’s not exactly true. I rarely leave the house without bundling up like the abominable snowwoman. You’ll find – in all seasons – a snow/ice scraper and ice guard for the windshield in the trunk of my car, and a shovel next to a trash can filled with salt in my basement. What you won’t find is me, traveling out on the roads, in the midst of ice and snow.
But perhaps there’s a silver lining. Despite the danger and anxiety that occurs in the onslaught of snow and ice, there’s also something magical that seems to happen. The snow drifts down, creating a white blanket that spreads out across the city. Purity. And stillness.
I was in New York City during the blizzard at the beginning of January. Once again, I realized my limits. My hotel room was my sanctuary for the day. But even there, I could tell when the snow had begun. To my ears, the city was silenced. It muffled the tones of cars, sirens and people. In a city that supposedly never sleeps, it certainly sounded quite different.
In that moment – with the fall of each first snow – I realize the noisiness of the world. The sounds of everyday aren’t merely a hum or soft buzz. Everyday sounds like a loud roar. No wonder we have difficulty silencing ourselves to reflect, to stop, to listen. No wonder we complain that we can’t hear God or understand his voice. Perhaps it’s simply not quiet enough.
Purity and stillness: two things that often seem out of reach. But not in the winter. In those moments, I find myself most capable of hearing and listening not only to God, but to the people around me. As the roar dies down, we can hear the voices of those closest to us. Are we listening?
Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.