I like shoveling snow. I always have. It makes my cheeks pink and it makes me feel young and alive—what’s not to like? My husband doesn’t enjoy it the way I do. He’s very tall and most shovels are designed for smaller people. A tall man with a short shovel is a bad combination—one that has caused Bill to throw his back out in the past. So I try to get to the shovel before he does, and I’m happy to do it.
But I absolutely do not like shoveling the same snow twice . . .
The Blizzard of 2016 hit the East Coast last weekend, depositing over two feet of snow on our tiny street in South Philly. On Saturday morning I enjoyed a bit of camaraderie with my neighbors as we cleared our sidewalks, steps and stoops.
On Saturday night, some of those neighbors decided to throw a Snow Day Party. Bill and I trudged through the deep drifts to their house at the other end of our block, where we shucked our coats and boots and settled in for a great evening. When the last guest arrived, he mentioned that someone had managed to pull out of a parking spot and was trying to drive out of our street to get to a larger, plowed street. We all agreed that his chances were slim and we hoped he wouldn‘t get stuck in the middle—which would delay the plow crews from clearing our street.
The party was a lot of fun, but it was getting late and I was ready to go home to my pajamas and a hot cup of tea. Bill was engaged in a lively conversation, so I said my goodbyes and left by myself. As I got close to our house, I saw that the person who had been trying to exit our street had actually been successful. Unfortunately, I also saw that in order to do so, he had moved a huge amount of snow out of the street—and up onto our steps and sidewalk.
At first, I looked at the mountain of snow in front of the house in disbelief—surely no one would really do something so selfish. I retrieved the shovel from the doorway and began to work, quickly discovering that the snow was now hard-packed and twice as heavy as it was when I moved it before. Reality set in and hostility and frustration began to grip me.
As I worked, I became more and more riled; but it was more than just this pile of snow that was upsetting me. Our five years in South Philly have yielded a whole string of affronts: a car totaled by a texting driver, two hit-and-run accidents while our new car was parked, a basement flooded because of property neglect by a neighbor, trash dropped on our sidewalk EVERY day, grown men peeing into our alley—in broad daylight! Etcetera. Though this snow situation was part of an ongoing pattern, it seemed to have brought me to my breaking point. It seemed like more than I could handle. My head was pounding. My heart was thumping loudly. I actually felt like I might explode.
I stopped. Leaning on the shovel, I looked up into the foggy sky and—not caring who heard me—yelled, “I don’t want to be angry!” I rested for a moment, blinking back tears of frustration, then began working again. I heaved a shovel-full of snow behind me and heard a noise. “Oof!” I turned and saw a man standing there—now I felt even worse, as I had just thrown snow on him! (Apparently he’d been looking down—navigating his way through the deep snow, and hadn’t seen me.)
“I’m so sorry!” I squawked. “Someone put all this snow back where I already shoveled and now I have to do it again because if I don’t it will be like solid ice tomorrow and the city could fine me fifty dollars and I can’t believe someone would be so thoughtless and so rude and . . .” I stopped in mid-sentence when I saw that he didn’t seem to be following what I was saying. He stood there looking sympathetic, but quizzical. When I finally allowed him to get a word in, he said, “Do you speak French? I speak French.” I gave myself a few seconds to calm down, then said, “Un petit peu.” (A little bit.)
He reached for the shovel and said, “I help.” Noticing his bare hands, I strained to recall my high school French, and said, “Vous n’avez pas des gants.” (You have no gloves.) “Les gants,” he corrected. “Oh, les gants,” I repeated. He smiled and again reached for the shovel.
I was not about to let this gloveless stranger shovel for me. But it dawned on me that the effort it took to speak a few words in a foreign language had made me feel slightly better.
I sensed I was being given a unique opportunity: an opportunity to redirect my thinking and snap myself out of an abysmal mood. So, in halting French, I began asking him about his life: “Where are you from? How long have you been in Philadelphia?” And so on. Surprisingly, a lot of vocabulary came back to me. I’m sure my grammar was hideous, but he didn’t bother to correct me again, and we managed to have a very pleasant conversation.
We spoke for a few minutes, and then he went on his way. As I watched him slowly proceed down the street, I smiled. I felt peaceful. The world seemed like a good place again. The world seemed like a friendly place again.
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