For millions of Americans, the recent Arctic Vortex could not end soon enough. Dangerously cold temperatures and huge snow mounds made life in the Midwest and Northeast particularly precarious. Walking, driving, even parking alongside city streets all became significant challenges for people who were just trying to survive the historic lows. Thankfully, conditions improved markedly across the nation this past weekend, with warmer temperatures and heavy rains bringing widespread relief.
As I walked to synagogue this past Saturday (Shabbat) in my New Jersey neighborhood, I saw something unusual. Cars that were parked angled on large snow banks the day before were now settled firmly on the asphalt, though not necessarily where their owners would have liked to have parked them.
The mounting piles of snow had meant that there was no guarantee that if you pulled your car securely into a spot, you'd later be able to pull out. There was also concern about damaging the bottoms of cars in high snow and ice. As a result, many of my neighbors had parked their cars quite a bit off of the curb, in the way that worked best at the time. As they approached their cars following the Sabbath, there were surely some who lamented their "poor" park of a day earlier.
As I was pondering this reality shift -- what appeared to be good and functional yesterday looked quite silly and inept today -- I was struck by the lesson that it offers. Life emerges from a certain context. We have a particular way of thinking about things, ourselves and others. We hold firm to our beliefs and routines and the way that we make sense of the world around us. We grip them tenaciously because our views, our routines and our relationships offer us identity, direction and comfort.
But there are times when we need to view things anew, to see the world from another perspective. We have to be able to sense when we are not properly grounded, when we have parked ourselves, our biases and our behaviors on faulty, transient foundations. We must be willing to integrate new learning, to muster the courage to acknowledge our errors and chart a new course. We need to respond correctly when circumstances shift from beneath us, forcing us to re-conceive our identity, our roles and our interactions.
No one can escape the vicissitudes of life. The question is how we respond. When the snow melts away and we approach our vehicle, will we like how we parked?