Monday, February 7, 2011

Snow happens II

Someone just asked me how I handled the snow storm last week. I thought about it for about a second and said: "Actually it was pretty great." First of all I got two unexpected days off of work which enabled me to spend some much needed time with my family, including my son's tenth birthday. Secondly I got to participate in a minor public works project, namely the shoveling of our alley where snow drifts made the automobiles on our block perfectly immobile for about 48 hours.

In his homily on Sunday, our pastor Father Jim pointed out that adversity can bring out the best in people. He noted that during the two snowbound days in our neighborhood, the rectory phone, normally busy with requests for help of one kind or other, barely rung. Instead he saw people helping others, whether it was digging sidewalks and cars out of the snow, bringing food to the shut-in elderly, or whatever they could. It was indeed an amazing time for anyone who chose to leave the security of their homes and commune with their neighbors those two days. The streets were filled with people who had a common problem, were determined to overcome it, and were more than willing to help each other, even perfect strangers. This was especially apparent during the worst of the storm when people who lived on Lake Shore Drive opened up their homes to the folks who were stranded while trying to drive through the storm.

It's times like these that make a neighborhood or even an entire city a true community. I was convinced that our car would remain snowbound at least through the weekend when our alderman reported that the over-burdened snow plow drivers would not get to the alleys until Sunday at the earliest. On Thursday as I was about to walk to the grocery store, I came across some neighbors who were taking the task upon themselves. I went back to get my shovel and started to help. What began as a project to clear a path for two cars, ended up as a project to rescue all the cars in the alley. So inspired were we that not only did we clear a passage through the street, but we also dug out all the cars that were buried in the snow drifts. In the process I even learned the names of some of the neighbors whom I have known for years. As my car would still probably be stuck in the alley today were it not for those good folks, I took it as karma that I should continue the work started by them and dug out the cars of some of my neighbors that were parked on another street. While my muscles ached a little that evening, I haven't felt as good, both physically and spiritually in a long time.

My experience no doubt was common throughout the city.

Then came Friday and many folks by and large went back to being their usual self-centered selves. Father Jim pointed out his experience of drivers jockeying for position on Western Avenue as they navigated the narrowed roadway instead of taking turns in an orderly fashion. I noticed pedestrians barreling full speed ahead when only the day before they would wait for oncoming walkers to clear sections of sidewalk shoveled so only one person could pass. Today, the operator of the L train I was on had to tell boarding passengers to do what they should already know, that is to wait for other passengers to exit the train before entering. Also today, my wife spotted someone claiming dibs on a parking space, the inescapable Chicago tradition of using folding chairs to mark the space presumably shoveled out by the dibs claimer. In this case there was a twist, this Mr. Dibs included a sign explicitly warning that any person who should remove the markers and park in the space faced serious damage to their car. Of course any true Chicagoan already knows that chairs (or other expendable household items) in a parking space in winter already implies such vandalism.

In other words, life has returned to normal.

But for two wonderful days in February, life as we know it was suspended. People were nice to each other.

It was better than Christmas.

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