I’ve been laboring over this for several days because it feels like a very awkward confession to make. Last weekend, we had an epic winter storm, and I nearly lost my mind. At least 18” of snow came down over the course of 24 hours, starting as a soft dry powder and turning to small ice missiles that pelted our windows for hours. The wind started early on – in the middle of the night Saturday – and it battered the house until mid-day Sunday. It was relentless, stopping for only a few seconds at a time, pummeling us on every side and causing a bizarre noise that sounded like a giant wind-up toy echoing into our chimney over and over.
I tried to distract myself by picking up one of my worn out Jane Austen novels, which is about the most soothing reading material there is. When that failed, I tried to stay busy sweeping the floors, cleaning the stove, doing laundry, and mopping up the puddles left by the snow blowing in through the gaps in the bottoms of the doors. Finally I lost all energy and determination and collapsed into my big chair in the den. Unfortunately, that left me facing our bank of windows and the impenetrable wall of whitish gray outside, so thick and flat that you couldn’t tell if it was day or night. I could focus on nothing but the overwhelming, oppressive, haranguing wind. It felt like the snow and wind and ice were fighting the house, fighting the light, fighting me. It made me nervous in the pit of my stomach and there was no logic to it. All I could do was close my eyes and wait for those few seconds of reprieve from the wind, and grasp at them when they came. Right then, I could hope that the storm would end; the rest of the time it seemed like an eternal force that would last longer than I would.
My friend texted to check on us and I told her that I thought the wind was making me go crazy. “Why does it make you so edgy?” she asked me. I had no answer.
Now, days later, I think I know. It was primal, totally uncontrolled. Our big, sprawling house, anchored to the landscape by all its masonry work and thick stone columns, felt like it could be pulled apart at any moment. Everything around me felt at risk of being broken and torn, and the forces of the storm were so powerful that they seemed to be tearing at my insides, too.
I finally realized that this storm was so unsettling because it made a lie out of so much of everyday life. We control everything – or we think we do. The temperature in the house, the temperature in the car – we even use a heat lamp to control the temperature in our chicken coop. We have umbrellas and rain boots so we don’t get wet, bug spray so we don’t get bit, sunscreen so we don’t get burned. We have fast food and microwaves so we don’t have to put time or energy into preparing food, we can get fresh strawberries at the grocery store in January…when it comes to our comfort and convenience, we’ve found ways to circumvent nature at every turn.
But then you face something truly elemental, and you realize how ridiculous all of that is.
The book of Job makes it plain when God asks, “Have you entered the treasury of snow, or have you seen the treasury of hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war? By what way is light diffused, or the east wind scattered over the earth?” (Job 38:22-24). Psalms tells us the same thing. “He gives snow like wool; He scatters frost like ashes; He casts out His hail like morsels; who can stand before His cold? He sends out His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow and the waters flow.” (Ps. 146:16-18).
Facing this wildness and uncertainty is fundamentally unsettling. There is nothing we can make with our own hands that we can hold up against it to shield ourselves. It feels like a shaking from within.
We are small and vulnerable, and the idea that we’re in control of anything is a terrible illusion. Nature, the seasons, the weather and the elements, all tell a different story, and they do not answer to us.
Job 37:4-13, “…He thunders with His majestic voice, and He does not restrain them when His voice is heard. God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things which we cannot comprehend. For He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth’…He seals the hand of every man, that all men may know His work…From the chamber of the south comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds of the north. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen…He causes it to come, whether for correction, or for his land, or for mercy.”
Sometime in the afternoon, the storm must have used up whatever was fueling it; one minute it was all fury, and the next, fat snowflakes were drifting lazily down into the backyard. I breathed. In the library, I turned the rocking chair around to face out the window that overlooks the back pasture, but the overgrown juniper hedge was so piled with snow that I could see nothing beyond it. I took up my Jane Austen again, and rocked and watched the snowflakes spin their slow circles. I sat there for a long time, letting the quietness sink in and replace some of what the storm had taken from me.
I’d like to tie this post up in a neat little bow, but I can’t. Now that I understand why the storm affected me like it did, I’d like to think I’ll handle it better next time, but I don’t know that I will. There are some things on this earth that don’t get any easier, and this may be one of those things for me. But – until next time – I’ll cozy up to the fire and let it warm me, and try to make peace with the fact that every storm eventually ends.