Be Still and Shovel

Restless and awake through the night, in bed under layers of quilts, I listed to the sleeping dog’s whimpering barks. The cat had realized that the dog’s sleep and my wakefulness was an opportunity for undisturbed cuddles. She chortled softly as she walked around the foot of the bed. She placed her front paws on my shoulder and nestled her head against my cheek.

I stared out the small dormer window. The streetlight’s glow through the window marked a cross high on my bedroom wall. Even without my glasses I could tell it was snowing. I let out a deep sigh of both relief and weariness. The purring cat curled closer to my chest.

Sometime during the past few weeks, among the holiday cheer and in-between presents, the switch had flipped from alone to isolation. To live a reclusive life is a blessing; to feel isolated is a thing to be cursed. St. John’s words on dark nights of the soul helped me understand these familiar occurrences. When in that darkness, I rely deeply on faith and seek earnestly the Face of God in the smallest events. Like a mantra I’ll repeat the Bible verse, be still, be still…“Be still and know the I AM God.”

From the window the dawn filtered slowly through the winter storm. I encouraged the cat from the fold in my arm and sat up on the edge of the bed. Nesting feet into slippers I lumbered into the day. It was The Solemnity of Mary and I readied for Mass.

Throughout the day it continued to snow and had steadily increased to well over six inches. With a second night of snow predicted, and another eight from a second storm soon to follow, I had to start clearing the drive before the accumulation was more than I could manage.

I love snow, love how it softens and quiets my world, how it mutes distractions and draws me into the present. I become more attentive to how I step, to watching out for others, and realize how vulnerable I am in a world grown cold—and blessed to have protection.

I headed out the front-porch door, bundled in an old seam-frayed coat, furry hat, and insulated mittens. I grab the shovel, and broom to clean off the car, and paused, distracted by the beauty of it all. The apples that still hung on the tree had snow thick and peaked like frosting and looked like suspended cupcakes. Every limb and tiny branch was edged with snow. The parallel white-on-black lines of branches were an entanglement of contrast that fooled the perception of depth.

The contrast of it all—the beauty and the threat—was what had my attention.

With an arthritic spine I knew the task of shoveling was a dare…a triple-dog-dare. I would either feel heroic in success or as foolish as a preen-teen boy with tongue frozen to the tether-ball pole, knowing better. I took the gamble and began to clear the snow.

Immediately I realized that lifting a shovelful was not an option. The accumulation was already too much for me to handle. Usually my neighbor Gary (aka Bear) would plow the drive, but he was out of town. I stood upright, and for a moment felt discouraged…there was no one to help.

The contrast of delight of new-fallen snow rubbed hard against the reality of the situation. The contrast of perceived isolation in my heart chafed the joy in my soul.

If I were to get the car out in the morning, the snow would have to be removed before more accumulated. Stooping, I began again, and prayed. I persevered and pushed, rather than lift, small lines of snow.

As the drive was slowly cleared I thought of the people in my life that, these past weeks, helped me push through depression. There was the delight at Mass of seeing Sheri, who lives over an hour north from church. And the unexpected marketing gift from Daria shortly after Christmas. The sweet teasing and bantering of writing friends on Facebook brought laughter to my days. Then, from 2500 miles away, came an embrace of caring words from Joanne.

Sometimes it’s not possible to alone lift ourselves from the accumulation of challenges in life, but we can with the help of others push our way through whatever is at hand.

By the time the drive was cleared, the switch of isolation had been turned off. With a warm cup of tea I rested my back and watched the snow continue to fall as dusk came and settled the day.

 

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About Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB

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