The Serenity of Snow
In fiction, there are many type of narrative conflict. I remember learning about three in particular during high school: man versus man, man versus himself, and man versus nature. The third always struck me as most odd, as if it did not belong. After all, one person may be able to change another person or change themselves, but an individual cannot change nature. As a quick wit once said, “In you versus the world, bet on the world.”
When one is confronted with a mountain or an ocean, a thunderstorm or a blizzard, there are certain things one can do to increase the likelihood of survival, but one cannot change the fact of the thing itself. That force of nature, whatever it may be, must be accepted. In fact, if it is not accepted and recognized for exactly what it is, one’s survivability diminishes rapidly. For the most part, such forces are undeniable. It is in this acceptance I find a deep serenity. Perhaps that is why I like snow.
I waited ten days for snow. Well, longer really, but waiting in a place where there is no reasonable chance of snow doesn’t really count, now does it? But Fort Collins in December has every likelihood of snow, and still I waited ten days to wake and find snow softly falling. I smiled while the rest of the city no doubt groaned. I missed snow. I’ve had more than enough of smog this year, more than enough of every sunny day being the just as the last, of green grass in December, and a city of sameness. I wanted snow, even if I wasn’t quite sure why.
It took time to learn the serenity of snow. For a larger portion of my life I was caught up in the complainer culture. Most of use know the children’s rhyme “rain, rain, go away,” and that is how we think about the weather, wanting it to conform to our convenience., irritated when it did not. Then I began studying the dharma and learned about change, struggle, suffering, and mindfulness. I started looking at things a little differently. Snow became no less dangerous, but it was suddenly less burdensome, less annoying. The first is a factor of snow, but the latter two are merely factors of our minds. I began to truly enjoy walking in the snow, especially at night when it makes the city a quiet, glowing place. I noticed how people seem to pitch in and help one another, even strangers, because that’s just the way of life in places that experience such things. I can’t count how many times I’ve helped push, had my car pushed, or seen others push another’s car out of the snow for nothing more than a handshake and a wave. Snow is just one of such things.
Sailors talk about the beauty of the ocean. “Treacherous as the sea,” Tolkien wrote. Sailors know that side of her. They love with no illusions, knowing her for what she is. Serenity comes from loving what we cannot change, something bigger than ourselves, something that cares not one jot for all our petty troubles and squabbles. The mountains and the thunderstorms say “Look not to me. You can do nothing about me. Look to yourself. Seek to change only what you can change.” Powerlessness becomes empowering.
Now imagine, if you can, what our lives could be like if we accepted everything the way we accepted the snow or the oceans or the mountains? This is not to say we do nothing. When it snows, I wear boots rather than sandals, lest I freeze my feet off. But what if we could look at the whole world, see it as it is, accept it, love it, and then take action? We would have a better understanding of what we could and could not change. We would have a stronger appreciation for the effects and outcome of our actions. We could let go of our struggle, the additional mental factors we add on to situations to create suffering, things like irritation, anger, blame, fear, and hate.
After all, what’s the point in hating snow? Hate makes the hater miserable and the harms the people around her. It doesn’t do a damn thing to the snow. If you hate it that much, move south (as many millions of people have). Change yourself and your own life, because Buddha knows, you won’t change the snow. We can learn to recognize this difference and find serenity in it, just like the prayer claims.
Every once in a while, I need something to remind me of this. It’s why I waited ten days for snow. It’s why I visit the mountains, the ocean, and the Sandhills whenever I can. It’s why I’ll keep writing about thunderstorms until I see my last one pass over the horizon.
I hope all can find there serenity of snow.