On the train home to Boston yesterday I gazed out the window at the new fallen snow. Celebrating my birthday with my family in Philadelphia had gladdened and wearied me in equal measure. Holiday hubbub provides little space for the solitude that keeps me sane, so I was counting on Amtrak for restoration. I turned my attention to the world streaming by, eager to be drawn out of my personal narrative and into a wider reality.
“Don’t shovel the snow!” the little child in the seat behind me cooed over her mom’s cell phone to her father at home. “I want to play in it!” You and me both, kid.
I love the white hours after the snow falls. Every tree branch wears a tailored coat. Winter’s discomforts are trumped by beauty. Of course, I’m often moving too quickly to take it in. Children have time for snowmen and igloos and wonder, but meanwhile there’s grown-up work to be done. I’ve turned another year older, and I know well that what begins bright, pure, and simple will be muddied and cast aside.
All of life is adventure, I wrote a while back. A professor chuckled as he critiqued the piece. “Isn’t life primarily repetition? Working, eating, drinking, defecating, sleeping?”
Well yes, I suppose. Ask my father how many times he’s shoveled the sidewalk.
Ask my grandmother how many times she’s watered the plants.
I thought often of my professor’s comment over the past months, as I cross-stitched Christmas stockings for Lydia and Eliza. Anyone who does needlework can tell you there’s not much skill involved. Even if you create the pattern yourself (and in the case of the stockings, I didn’t), the execution is just one little stitch after another.
Cross-stitching is a luxurious tedium. It’s not nursing bedsores. It’s not foraging for potable water. By and large my life’s repetition is of the luckiest caliber. Still, my professor’s words sometimes chafe against my romantic inclinations.
The child behind me took her mother’s phone for the second time. “Is the snow melting?” she asked. “Oh good,” she sighed after reassurances from the unheard end of the line.
I want to be the enraptured child who’s not thinking of clearing the driveway. I also want the stitch-by-stitch persistence to create something that might outlive me.
Can I have it both ways? Perhaps it’s actually in the pocket of life’s patterns that I stand my best chance of waking up. Sometimes I chop the vegetables after a difficult day of work and feel my frustration ebb. Sometimes I peel the onion and realize I’ve needed to cry.
Of course, I’m just as likely to stew over my workday while I chop the vegetables. I’m just as likely to wish I were done peeling the onion already.
That’s okay, too.
The snow falls and I can tell you what’s coming next: plows, piles, gray slush. The New Year approaches and I don’t bother concocting the grand resolutions of my youth. There’s plenty I don’t know about the days to come, but I can tell you this much. Some moments I’ll be distractible or distraught. Some moments I’ll relax into the sturdy arms of awe. Every moment is a gift.
This is great, Hannah. They are both so true – life is adventure AND tedium. I guess you can’t have one without the other. Maybe it’s about reveling in each as they come; I think you do a good job of that 🙂