I put on several layers, a wool headband and a hat, a huge scarf around my neck and face, and two pairs of socks under my snow boots. It was 6:45 a.m. and I just had to go outside. After all, it's not everyday one gets to experience what 20 below feels like. The snow crunched as I plodded down the sidewalk. The sun was not yet up, but the glow from our yard light reflected an intense, bright energy from the crispy white shell that blanketed our property. Yes, it was cold. A bitter, arctic-like cold I had never felt before. But even more than the cold, I was struck by the silence. Nothing stirred. It was as if the cold had frozen the usual sound vibrations in mid-air. There were no train whistles or car engines in the distance. It was eerily hushed, except for the "crunch, crunch, crunch" of my footsteps.
I snapped a photo with my phone, removing my mitten just long enough to hit the button. "Not the best photo," I thought. "I'll have to try again after the sun comes up."
The polar vortex was a gift to me. I spent days inside my cozy house that I normally would have spent working at school. No need to get dressed until I was tired of my pajamas. No need to pack a lunch. No need to leave the house. No schedule. No meetings. No responsibilities. No coffee from a travel mug.
Instead, my days were filled with decisions. Which ceramic mug will I drink my coffee from? Which cluttered area should I subject to the "Marie Kondo" treatment today? Which book should I read? How many tasks should I scratch from my to-do list before lunch? How many after lunch? Which Netflix series should I binge on?
Yes, the polar vortex was a gift to me. But I knew others didn't see it that way. Tragically, several lives were lost. There were car accidents, fires, and explosions. Homeless individuals were desperate to find shelter. Many in the service professions had to brave the beastly temperatures and treacherous roads to get to work, care for the sick, put out fires, and pull cars out of ditches. Some of our students wondered if there would be food on the table, since they wouldn't be eating at school. Pipes froze and burst.
After the sun came up, I headed back outside. I didn't even bother to put on all the layers this time, knowing it would be less than 30 seconds before I was back in my warm, snug house. I snapped another photo. "Much better," I said to myself. Perfect for a Snapchat to my family, or maybe a Facebook post later (as if anyone needed to be informed it was cold in my backyard). It was still bitingly cold, but I heard the birds flitting about the feeder, breaking the icy silence of the early morning hours.
I felt the same frigid air, the same biting temperatures, the same polar vortex.
But the silence didn't overcome me.
The sunshine provided different circumstances, a different view, and a different experience.
My camera had captured two distinctly different pictures of the same polar vortex.
I felt the warmth envelope me as I came back inside and closed the door. Thankful for my circumstances, I said a prayer for those less fortunate. I remembered them out in the cold. I thought of them in their pain. I prayed for them to find food and shelter. Still, I wanted to do more.
I washed the coats that I had purged from our mudroom decluttering, and got them ready to bring to school for the kids who came without. I filled up several bags of hats, scarves and mittens to bring to Goodwill. I chastised myself for not having done this before the record-breaking cold, but reminded myself that late was better than never.
Still, I want to do more. I must do more. I can't stop pain and suffering anymore than I can stop a polar vortex. But maybe I can break the silence by bringing a little warmth and sunshine into the cold corner of someone else's world.
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Luke 12: 48b.