As one matures, the existentialist question intensifies, "Why am I here?" This question becomes most fierce when I am shoveling snow -- over 12 inches, all alone at my home near Boston. I am ready for the rapture. Take me away.
Like other New Englanders, I face the elements with sword (snow shovel) and shield (arctic gear). In my driveway, the snowplow service has done the lion's share of clearing, but mounds of snow have been pushed up against our garage. The overhead doors open as I get ready to crush foot-high stalagmites now before me. With a shovel full of small boulders, I am an ant carrying one hundred times my body weight. Bad timing that my husband is away on business.
Get to work. I use Jedi Mind Tricks to keep me shoveling. I fix my mindset on beauty. It's easy to savor wintry splendor once I'm outside. The coral filigree of branches is a lacy veil against the heavens. Here in Milton a nearby field and the skies blend into a white match so perfect that it is difficult to see where one ends and the other starts. A gentle downfall of snowflakes continues for 20 minutes.
Oh, who cares? My shoveling arm hurts. All this tough, manual labor must be lopping five years off my lifespan. I doubt Nelson Mandela down in the mines had it this hard.
I rein in my Inner Whiner with another Jedi Mind Trick -- gratitude. Isn't it wonderful I'm this mobile at age 56? I can still wield a mean shovel and my back is in good condition. But soon the inner fight between positive and negative begins. For every appreciative thought, there is a snippy comeback.
I'm lucky to live in this big house!
Really? Are you also enjoying clearing a driveway that never quits?
Think of all the people who can't do this, the elderly, the weak or the ill. I'm blessed to be strong and healthy!
Being an invalid has advantages, like sitting in a soft bed and having lunch brought to you.
Winter is part of the package when you live in a fabulous four-season state like Massachusetts.
Oh, please. What is wrong with sunny California? When you lived there you never had to go around tricked out like a Yeti in L.L. Bean.
I need the exercise. Snow shoveling burns a ton of calories.
Too bad you don't work out in your fun fitness center very often. That gym card is the most expensive picture ID you own.
Luckily the magic of gratitude lasted long enough to finish the driveway. Now it's time to shovel the front stairs and "being of service" is my next mind trick. The poor postman, it's not fair to make him wade through thigh-high snow banks to deliver my mail. Think of all the people who have to work in this weather, or worse, the homeless. Clear the path and don't complain.
As I approach the front steps, I hear grumbling rumbling. My last mind trick is the most powerful one -- bribes. Five steps more to shovel, I can do it! Imagine a hot cup of tea. Oh! There's cake upstairs, or how about heating up some soup? Even better, how about a little trash TV to go with that bowl of minestrone? Yes!
Finally, I trudge back to the garage, steaming from exertion with delicious rewards in sight. Jedi Mind Tricks do work. I push the garage door button to close.
The electricity is out.
And then existentialism kicks in with its eternal question: Why am I here?
Suzette Martinez Standring is the award-winning author of The Art of Column Writing. Watch episodes of her TV show about the craft of writing, "It's All Write with Suzette," on www.vimeo.com.