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The Agony and Esctasy of Snow

February 22, 2010


I built a fire in our fireplace, popped a bowl of popcorn, and reclined in the recliner. I settled in to watch the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. Outside my window we were being treated to a gentle snowfall.

The broadcast from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, was entertaining. The high tech visual display went off almost without a hitch. The choreography was flawless, but the mood was somber. On opening day of the Olympics, a young athlete from the nation of Georgia died in a practice run for the luge.

After the ceremonies were over and Wayne Gretzky had lighted the Olympic Flame, I checked the snow accumulation in my backyard. Though a few fluffy flakes were still falling we already had more than three inches.

I sat by the dying embers of the fire pondering the agony and the ecstasy of sport. Maybe that is why so many of us are drawn to the Winter Olympics, even those of us who rarely see snow and ice. Longtime sports broadcaster Jim McKay coined the phrase, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”  The Olympics in Vancouver will provide both.

Lindsey Vonn, an Alpine skier from the United States, won a gold medal in the downhill. The very next day she crashed in the slalom.

In women’s snowboardcross favored American, Lindsey Jacobellis, was disqualified while hometown hero Maelle Ricker of Canada took the gold medal.

In speed skating, Shani Davis of the US won the gold medal. A Korean skater in second place fell in the final turn of another race, wiping out his own teammate who was in third.

The weekend snowfall blanketed most of South Carolina. Many Southerners, especially school children and schoolteachers, greet any prospect of snow with excitement.  

When the forecast held the promise of snow, I asked a school principal, “Is it supposed to snow?” 

“It’s always supposed to snow!” came the ready reply. 

A snow that sticks creates a delightful playground.  Snow angels, snowmen, snowballs, snow ice cream, and sledding are all fun, though fleeting, possibilities.

Some of our Northern transplants are baffled by our enthusiastic reaction to snow.  They are annoyed that a few inches of snow can bring life to a screeching halt for so many of us. Rather than a delight, snow, for them, is a nuisance. 

Southern folks do behave in strange ways when snow is impending. School children wear their pajamas inside out as a snow charm. Grocery store shelves are quickly depleted of milk and bread. Do hundreds of people sit in their homes eating bread and drinking milk when we have snow? 

I posed the question while standing in the express line at a grocery store several years ago.  Snow was in the forecast.  The woman ahead of me made sense out of what seemed like nonsense.  “If my power goes out, I can give my three children peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a glass of milk.  The peanut butter and milk give them complete protein.” 

I was glad to have a reasonable answer as I stepped forward to purchase my own bread and milk.

Winter weather provides for many of us a day of grace, the unexpected blessing of a day off.  It can be a day to enjoy our families.  My mother always fixed a big pot of vegetable soup on snow days.  Though the roads were too bad to go to school, her grandchildren found a way to go “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house”.  Even if the power goes out, this day of grace can be a time to sit by a hearth and read a book.

This day of grace is a time to think of others.  As winter weather approaches, I try to remind our church members to check on family and friends, especially the elderly who live alone.

Winter weather is not a delight for everybody.  It can be a reminder to those of us who have food and warmth to share.  Organizations such as Miracle Life Ministries, The Haven, the Soup Kitchen at Second Presbyterian Church, Mobile Meals, Total Ministries, and the Interfaith Hospitality Network provide service to our most needy citizens.

A gentleman in our church made a special gift to our benevolent fund.  “When I served in World War II, I was so cold I didn’t think I would ever be warm again,” he explained.  His gift was used that very week to provide heating oil for a young family of five.

If we receive a day of grace because of winter weather, think of those who are working while others have the day off.  Medical personnel, paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement officers, utility employees, road crews, and tow truck drivers are but a few examples of those who labor long hours in the cold and damp.  To remember them with petitions for their safety and gratitude for their service is our privilege.

Snow is instant urban renewal.  A blanket of snow makes a dark, drab landscape bright and beautiful. At the same time, some suffer terribly when snow falls. Several years ago, I was visiting the hospital during a snowstorm when I came upon a homeless man sleeping in the stairwell. 

Winter weather is a mixed blessing, agony for some, and ecstasy for others.

Kirk H. Neely
© February 2010

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