The second holiday season of my widowhood was much worse to live through than the first. (This is a common experience, I’ve since learned.) I was really missing my husband and feeling very alone. Just when I really needed some cheering up, a big holiday snow arrived. It was a wet, pretty snow and it clung to every branch. I drank my coffee and watched it softly coat everything it touched with white. It was beautiful and suddenly, I was overtaken with an urge to make a snowman.
My West Virginia childhood provided me with a lot of snow-play experience, so I slid on two pairs of pants and lined my winter gloves with the vinyl ones I use to clean house. The dogs were even more excited than I was, they also wanted to play in the fresh stuff. The minute the door opened they leapt into the soft piles from the porch, bypassing the steps. They ran around and around the yard and marveled at the steaming yellow trails they were leaving in the snow. I often regret that I was not born a dog. They really know how to have a good time, love well, and enjoy life.
As they ran around, a bright red cardinal perched on a branch near the fence and began singing as if God had given him a cosmic cue. This was a very neat touch and one I really appreciated. I hadn’t felt much like singing myself. (Which, if you know me, you know isn’t like me.)
It seemed as if all of nature was conspiring to help me have a good time. I pushed my hands down in the snow and formed the first ball. It took shape and I rolled it around in the yard until it grew fat with snow (I like a plump snowman, don’t’ y’all?). I plunged my hands into the snow again. I was fixated on the rapidly emerging roundness. I was so preoccupied I didn’t even notice the snow had ceased to fall and the temperature had plummeted. The cardinal chirped a warning but I barely heard it as I plunged my hands in for the third time to make the head.
I’m sure my lack of success in molding the head had something to do with the fact that I could no longer feel my hands. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the ball to form an orb. The snow just fell right through my fingers instead of sticking tight. The dogs were whining, they knew it had grown cold and they were ready to go in. But I kept at it. I squeezed and squeezed the white powder inside my hands and snarled at it as it fell back to the ground. I only stopped snarling because I couldn’t feel my tongue anymore.
The dogs were now pleading for mercy from the cold so I gave up and took us all back inside. As I unbound myself from all the winter gear hot tears spilled down my face. (When your face is frozen stiff your tears feel very hot indeed.) I didn’t have a husband and I didn’t have a snowman!
I made a hot tea and tortured myself by looking out the window at my failed attempt. The cardinal returned with his spouse and some feathered friends. They seemed to be watching me as closely I was watching them. Then I realized why. Their feeder was empty. The cardinal was looking from me to the snow torso and back again. I suddenly felt a whiff of inspiration in the air.
Could I rethink the abandoned snow project? Was it possible to make something new from a loss?
Captured by the possibility of it, I filled a cup with seeds and took a knife from the drawer. I pulled on my jacket and gloves and ventured out again. I raked the top of the snow torso flat and poured the cup of seeds onto the top and before I could even get back inside the birds were on it. When I returned to my tea I realized this new feeder was in a perfect place, and at a perfect height, for me to watch the birds from my armchair by the fire.
My snowman incident was a great reminder of the great truths of life: On the coldest of days, it’s grace that gets us through it. (Grace and the willingness to think outside the old box.)