If you’re lucky, the world stops in the middle of a polar vortex. If you’re unlucky, nothing stops and there you are, working, making, doing, healing, delivering, surviving. If you’re really unlucky, you are without a home, without proper shelter or food or gear or transportation.
I’m one of the lucky ones this go around with Mother Nature. Our cars are gassed up, our fridge is fully stocked, the kids are in the background groaning about the iMovie app they’re trying to work on collaboratively. Coen Brothers 2.0. It turns out that 5 and 10 year old boys have very different artistic visions that result in noisy conflict. Huh.
For many of us caught in this polar vortex, it is one of those precious moments that stretch into hours, sometimes days, when the world stops. Attractions are closed. Neighbors take the time to talk to one another as they stand in line in the grocery store or shovel out their cars on city streets. There is a common enemy, shared experience, no blue or red, no north or south, less apparent difference. It is us, together, against the cold, the chill, the snow. We’re Chicagoans, strong stock, hearty, we got this.
This weather brings out the sentimental, melancholy Irish in me. The world is still around me, time feels suspended. Is it Wednesday? Saturday? The outside falls away and the bright sun, thank goodness for the bright sun, shines on the thoughts and memories of other times the world stood still.
I made a pot of spaghetti sauce last night and I marveled that it felt like a hug from my Mom who died fourteen years ago, cliched as that may be. The wine and the sugar in the sauce, the smell, the comfort of her embrace. She kept me company in my kitchen last night, shared dinner with the grandsons she never met. It was lovely.
And I can conjure my Dad in his bright red parka, bought for a steal at the Bargain Nook in Darlington, Wisconsin. “It’s like wearing a grizzly bear,” he would say, the proudest of proud men, confident in his strength, unfazed by notions as man made as “wind chill.” There was another day like this in Chicago, before we called it a polar vortex, when Christmas was cancelled in 1983. I remember layer after layer after layer that he put on before going outside to start the car. For those moments he was my very own Pa Ingalls.
But most of all, when the world stills like this, I think of Donna. For a moment, when my daughter died, the world stopped with us, her Mom and Dad. For a moment, the world around us hung suspended with us in grief and disbelief and sorrow. It is the stillness that recalls that core of grief, that moment of departure, that time my heart broke and before it started to repair itself.
Now in the stillness, Donna feels closer.
Yesterday, Block Club Chicago posted a story about a Spanish artist, Eduardo Vea Keating, transplanted to Chicago. He makes murals out of snow. They are ephemeral and simple and melt quickly. I’ve been thinking about his words a lot since yesterday, in the stillness, “That’s usually how life is. It’s full of moments. Some are better and some are worse, but life goes on. [The art] will melt. Everything will pass. Just enjoy what you have around you and try to stay positive.”
I can do that, I can find the beauty in the stillness. Not all of us can. Chances are, if you are reading these words, you, too, have found some stillness. Take a moment, look around you, at the steaming Lake, at the thermostat that reads a number starting in a 6 or 7, at the gas tank on “F,” at the smiling/shouting kids wearing pajamas past noon, at the spoon covered in batter waiting to be washed.
There is a beauty and a comfort in the stillness and the cold, if you are lucky. Can you see it?