It was an ordinary day turned extraordinary thanks to a gift bestowed to us in the most unexpected of ways, and at the most unexpected of times. While its arrival time varies, this gift is consistent in that it appears every year. It comes without warning but with fanfare, because it always seems significant in a small way.
It's hard to say what was so special about that day. Perhaps because it always feels like a surprise and a gentle reminder that we're really not in charge after all. Perhaps because for a moment it makes us stop and take stock of the events that have unfolded over the last year. Perhaps because the event can mute the rest of the world briefly. Or perhaps because it has a remarkable way of suspending time, yet paradoxically denotes a shift in seasons and announces change in the air.
Likely we treasure days like this so much because sadly, we are all aware of other days that have started out as normal, then news breaks that is not only disruptive, but devastating and turns the day into something entirely different.
Yes, days like that day are the good ones. A universal treat arrives that moves people of all ages. This is the gift of the season's first snow.
The first snow of the season can elicit excitement in many different ways. When I was in college the evening of the first snow was welcomed every year by men in the freshman dormitories answering tradition's call and streaking across the quad lawn. As soon as someone spotted the first snowflake, giggles would erupt and move across the hallways and cafeteria with a wave of anticipation. We would whisper, "tonight's the night."
But as we laughed I always spotted at least one guy sitting quietly with a nervous look on his face. I would pause for a brief moment and wonder if this boy had any idea of the school tradition, and his future obligation, attached to the residence hall listed on his freshman housing assignment. I could just imagine him sitting in his parents' backyard on a warm summer day holding the envelope in his hand. He would be blissfully unaware that in just three to four months he would have made the transition from home to college, started classes and made friends. Yet just as he was finding his undergraduate footing, he'd be propelled into a campus-wide dare and spectacle to disrobe and make a mad dash in the frigid night air, all in celebration of the season's first snow... and all because he happened to live in a certain dormitory. One look at his face, and I knew he was far less excited than the rest of us about the first snow.
Now that I'm a mother of three young children living in Chicago (without an attached garage!), my excitement about the first snow has significantly waned. In fact, my feelings about the first snow are likely closer to the dread of that college boy living in the famous dormitory than to the giggling girl I was full of anticipation and excitement over the evening's events. These days the first cold snap of the season doesn't mean much more to me than a scramble to dig out winter coats and hats from bins in our crawl space storage to determine what fits which child.
So when I spied the first flake of snow I wasn't excited, or titillated. I was downright grouchy. After all, the calendar told me that we were just officially into November and thoughts of my children's Halloween candy hangover were still swirling around in my sinus-congested head. I was sitting in a parked car, on a conference call and trying to hush the 3-year-old in the backseat when I looked up and spotted the first damp drop of white on my windshield. At that particular moment, the arrival of snow was decidedly less magic and decidedly more nuisance.
As my conference call came to an end I drove in the falling flakes to pick up my 9-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter at school. I couldn't believe it was snowing so early in the season. I kept saying it out loud partially to my 3-year-old and partially in disbelief to myself, "Snow! Can you believe it? Already!" The trees were still painted with the spectacular splendor of fall and were still clinging to the leaves to fill out their canopy, at least for another few days.
The snow lessened and turned into a cold rain. I sighed as I saw my children walking across the school yard and realized that they did not have the appropriate attire for rain or snow. No hat, no umbrellas, certainly no boots. As they plopped down in the car with their damp hair, I braced myself for complaints and misery. Instead, my daughter's bright blue eyes were wide and contagious with excitement as she proclaimed, "Today it snowed!!"
I looked over at my son and said, "Did you see the snow today?" and he answered, "Well, sadly we didn't see it, but we heard about it."
I asked what he meant and he explained. His class was on a field trip with hundreds of other grade schoolers watching a play based on a book in a large, ornate, old theatre. When the show ended and the red velvet curtain closed, an announcer came out and told the students, "Just so you know, its snowing outside... right now. Today is the first snow!"
I couldn't help but smile and asked my son what everyone did when the speaker gave the announcement. He completed the image in my head, explaining that all of the kids cheered and started dancing and singing "Jingle Bells"!
With that my children and I laughed about singing "Jingle Bells" in November. My daughter asked about how we would build a snowman when he hadn't even jumped in leaves yet! The kids made up stories about a leaf snowman and created silly songs combining Halloween jingles, Thanksgiving lyrics and Christmas carols.
Pilgrims, pumpkins and holly jolly. For that brief moment, the first snow stopped meaning wet shoes, messy floors and runny noses and instead I allowed myself to see it through my children's eyes. To the kids the first snow meant surprise, smiles, imagination and bright-eyed wonder.
Wonder with innocence and without expectation. Wonder at the unfamiliar and inexplicable. And wonder at nature's glory.
I was reminded that the first snow is the promise of a season, an affirmation of the beauty in what lies before us, and the joy for what is still to come.
Thank you for the gift.
This post originally appeared on Carissa's blog, www.carissak.com. You can see more from Carissa by following her on Tumblr, carissakwriter.tumblr.com, Facebook at www.facebook.com/carissaKwriter, Twitter @CarissaK or Instagram, www.instagram.com/carissakwriter. Thanks for reading.