We are not powerless specks of dust drifting around in the wind, blown by random destiny. We are, each of us, like beautiful snowflakes – unique, born for a specific reason and purpose. ~ Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
I was woken at an ungodly hour by the arrival of a text message; school was cancelled due to heavy snow. I got up and looked blearily out of my bedroom window to see two feet of snow. I padded into the kitchen and found it eerily bright as I trudged over to the sink to fill the kettle for coffee. Through the kitchen window I saw our ten-year-old laurels bowed down and broken by the weight of the snow on their branches. They’d formed the privacy hedge at my small back garden, and I felt suddenly exposed and vulnerable.
I grabbed a sweeping brush and rushed outside in my dressing gown, trying to save as many remaining branches as I could.
I thought back to old Coaching Moments posts I’d written, phrases I’d used. This is an extract from War of the Words, about the language we use with our loved ones:
I created this piece in my head as I stood at the kitchen window, watching the falling snow bend our trees in the eerie orange glow of a street light in the middle of the night. I’d gone to bed mid-argument, couldn’t sleep, my husband came to bed, I got up, so I’d decided to go and make some camomile tea. I stood at the window, mesmerised by the swirling orange snowflakes and wondering how something as delicate as a snowflake had the power to bend and break the branches of trees. As I stood watching, I saw one supple branch rebel under the weight of the thousands of snowflakes heaped upon it, catapulting its burden with surprising defensive venom. I went outside in my bare feet and dressing gown and gently swept the snow off the remaining trees with a broom, knowing it was too late to take back the thousands of tiny thoughtless comments I heap on my husband over the days, weeks and months until he feels he has to lash back at me about my lack of appreciation and my seeming obsession with perfecting details. I hoped I could at least save some of our branches.
In this extract, from Shaking off the Shoulds, I use a snow metaphor to describe the freedom we experience when we free ourselves from the burdens of self imposed ‘shoulds’, and learn to see the world and all its promise and wonder through children’s eyes:
While I’ve been sitting here writing, it’s stopped snowing and some of the snow has thawed. I’ve just watched a laurel branch bounce back from under its burden of snow, launching it like a catapult.
That’s how I feel as I shake off the shoulds, the rest of my snow day beckoning me like our snow covered front garden, silently waiting to share its treasure when the kids come home.
And in this extract from a comment response I wrote, the snow becomes a symbol for overwhelm and despair as we struggled to dig a way out for my friend’s car so she could get to her chemotherapy session.
Because of the snow, my friend has struggled to get into hospital for her chemotherapy. That’s helped me gradually regain my sense of perspective. One day, as a few of us were digging the snow from her drive, I felt that if I could just keep digging and clearing until there was a way out, somehow, it would all be OK.
I also used a snow metaphor in The Sound of Music to describe the period of my life when I lost my ‘voice’ and almost drifted into depression:
I sang my way around Europe when I worked as a language teacher and translator; my voice was a vital part of who I was and what I did. After I had my kids, I moved back to Scotland and slowly, imperceptibly, I stopped writing, stopped singing, stopped playing the guitar and even stopped speaking the foreign languages I was fluent in. Silence gently settled around my soul like snow.
When I drifted into life coaching, on my journey out of what I now realise was low grade chronic depression, my passion to tell the whole world about it bubbled up, spilled over and finally gushed out in the torrent that helped me rediscover my voice.
Snowflakes are delicate, astonishing things. Every one is unique and fragile yet, silently, just sitting there side by side… still… simply being, their lives are extended and their power is immense.
The polar ice caps are the breath of the planet, a delicately balanced element in the health of the oceans’ currents and conveyor belts.
But snow can also devastate, crush, wreak havoc, block roads, bring down powerlines and sever communication.
Like stinging snowflakes in a blizzard, each unkind word spoken to our children and loved ones, if left unchecked, can pile up until something precious is broken under the weight.
Every sadness we accept with an unquestioning sigh can build up until, without realising it, our hearts are shrouded in drifts of silent, snowy depression.
Every lack of clear communication can lead to drifts of misunderstanding that ultimately shut down all channels of communication.
Every piece of junk mail we leave lying around, every book we can’t part with or memento we don’t know how to deal with can become an avalanche of clutter.
But snow can’t co-exist with warmth, and even if snowfall is inevitable, we can be prepared and vigilant, and take small steps towards doing what we can. I could have brushed yesterday’s first snowfalls off my treasured bushes and small trees. If I had, they might not have broken under the weight of last night’s gentle but consistent snow fall.
We haven’t had blizzards; it’s been snowing softly and gently. But it hasn’t stopped, and that’s the lesson I’m taking away with me today.
One kind word doesn’t build a kind, loving relationship.
One written word doesn’t make a great piece of writing. One post doesn’t make a great blog, nor does one article make a successful newsletter.
One essay doesn’t make a degree, one lesson a teacher or one training course a life coach.
One cleared pile of paper clutter doesn’t let your house breathe.
One beautiful memento doesn’t make a home, just as one memory doesn’t make a life.
But our uniqueness as human beings, the gentle consistent, accumulative power of every loving deed and word, every smile from a stranger, every supportive comment left on a blog, every small triumph, every tip that transforms a life, every photo that inspires, every little success, every step or decision that takes us in the right direction, – they do make a life. A good life. We’re not just snowflakes. Together, we’re snow.
I’d love to be the kind of snow that makes children’s eyes wide with wonder and Christmas magical. I’d like to be as strong as the kind of snow that supports the Winter Olympics. Some days, all I can manage is grey slush by the side of the road. What does snow mean for you? What’s your unique strength as a snowflake?
(Update: It’s still snowing, and for the second time in two months, we’ve had about thirty inches of snow. Miraculously, though, we still have an internet connection!)