By Jean Fitzpatrick
We were supposed to get a storm of Antarctic proportions, and the radio announced a long list of school closings, but it's only a light snowfall. For an instant, I stop to look: as the wind rises through the trees, showers of huge lollipop flakes, like the ones in a child's drawing, fall to the ground, and the pure winter light reflected off the snow pours in our windows and bathes the whole house. But then it's business as usual: I return a few phone calls, exchange emails with colleagues about an upcoming meeting. My neighbor calls and we congratulate ourselves on the fact that with the snow on our driveways already melted, we won't need to call the plow.
As I put down the kitchen phone, I remember with a pang how, when my kids were small, they would greet a day like this with great whoops of joy, running outside to sled down the lawn and make snow angels. Once they were back indoors -- noses runny, mittens caked with snow, hair electrified from their knit hats -- we'd spread their wet clothes over the radiators and it would be time for hot chocolate. They'd spend the long afternoon rummaging through old clothes for costumes, getting lost in a storybook, watching Gilligan's Island reruns.
I don't let myself do that very often. Don't look back, I tell myself. Banish the self-pity. You have two healthy, grown kids. They're moving forward, they're happy and caring, they stay in touch. You have a full life, people and work you love. You're safe in a warm house. To be anything but thankful would be a disgrace.
Right. I turn away from the window. Back in my office, sinking into the swivel chair at my desk, I click on the online reservation that will, in a few weeks, whisk me away from winter. Tropical sunsets, blue water and pineapple daiquiris: just the ticket.
Now, hold on a minute, something inside me says. What are you running away from?
I take a deep breath and check in with myself. Actually, I'm surprised to notice, I feel no sadness, no pain, nothing. Zero. How did it happen so quickly that the most frozen place of all is inside my own heart?
I go back to the kitchen, fix a cup of orange tea, and gaze out the window. This time I let myself picture my children trudging across the meadow beyond the trees, calling out to each other, putting out their tongues to catch falling flakes. Ice glistens along the birch branches. A cardinal lights on the feeder and flies off. This time, instead of flinging off the sadness, I'm letting it rest with me, but lightly. Before long, as I slow down to take in the beauty of the silent, snowy woods, I'm deep in the present moment, with all its fullness.
There's no substitute for letting ourselves be human. At certain times in our lives, other people -- those we love, those we reach out to help, those with a gift for prayer or preaching -- help us see the world in an intense, new way. In doing so, they open our eyes to a larger reality, mediate the divine for us. When those times pass, no two ways about it: we're bound to grieve. It's true there's no point in looking back, like Lot's wife. But if we insulate ourselves completely against those inner waves of loss, we end up walling off the grace that is always offered to us. We lose touch with joy.
The sky is a milky white. I'm pretty sure it's going to snow again.
Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth. She has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.