Oh, joy. Winter has finally arrived. I have been flitting about with a song in my heart ever since this weekend’s snowfall. Summer is a challenge to me, humidity like a dagger in my very soul…but snow??? Ah, bliss. So happy was I, that I was fairly singing as I headed out the door for a run. No, I don’t intend to run all winter, this IS Minnesota, after all. Plus, in one of those cruelly ironic twists of fate, I seem to have developed something called Reynauld’s syndrome, which compromises my circulation if I get chilled…. and nothing kills the enjoyment inherent in wintertime running like the phrase “possible amputation.”
So, fine. I won’t run when it is seriously cold. But, give me a break, it was 36 degrees, which is downright balmy. So there I was, happily jogging around when I hit the first serious roadblock to my cold weather enjoyment…. the unshoveled walkway. Seriously, people? As I’ve stated, this is Minnesota. Shoveling your walk is part of our duty to our fellow citizens. If you don’t clear your sidewalk, you are broadcasting loud and clear your distain for your fellow man and the deep, dark depth of your misanthropy. You might as well sit on your porch with a shotgun in your lap and yell at the neighbor kids to keep the hell off your lawn. You grumpy old coot, you.
Now I am willing to give passes to seniors who have ample reason to avoid heavy lifting and slippery surfaces. But YOU — the one with the clever cartoon stickers on your minivan showing mommy, daddy, sister, two brothers and the dog…what interests me about your choice of window decal is less your particular family make-up as the fact that there are FIVE people in that house who dropped the ball. Six, if you count the do-nothing canine. If your kids are little, they are just dumb enough to think shoveling snow is fun. Have at it!
I’ve got a reputation with my husband for being a stickler, downright prissy if I were to quote him exactly, when it comes to following the tenets of our social contract. Things like “10 items or less,” “pedestrians have the right of way” and “women and children first” are extremely important to me. No, we don’t have to follow them. But life flows ever so much more smoothly when we do. I like living in a world where people don’t stand too close in elevators, let the customer with only a gallon of milk and a snickers to go ahead of them in the grocery line and say “Thank you” to their bus drivers. The topic is best explored in an essay I’ve always loved called “An Ode to Common Decency” by Stephen Jay Gould and I would heartily suggest everyone in the entire bloomin’ world read it. Written just after 9/11 he suggests; “The center of human nature is rooted in ten thousand ordinary acts of kindness that define our days…Ordinary kindness trumps paroxysmal evil by at least a million events to one, and we will not grasp this inspiring ratio unless we record the Everest of decency built grain by grain into a mighty fortress taller than any breakable building of mere concrete and steel.” (for the life of me, I can’t find a direct link. The best I’ve found is this; the essay is posted in it’s entirety at the end of the post.)
Those grains of decency he’s talking about are the ways that we lubricate our daily interactions; and though it may all seem to break down during rush hour or a particularly cut- throat “After Christmas” sale at Macy’s, for the most part those ten thousand acts of kindness make the society of our fellows a joy.
The little one always has the same question when admonished for some small, social infringement; “Could I go to jail?” I always answer no, but only because he’s still a little young to understand “Yes! The jail of an unordered society! Chaos, Anarchy and Selfishness are prisons of the mind!” which is what I want to answer. No worries, I’ll save it for his wedding toast. Hopefully, though, I won’t need to do it. By that time I’m hoping to have beaten it into his brain. By then he will know to give up his seat to someone who may need it more; to speak quietly in the library so others can study; most of all, of course, he will know to shovel his sidewalk…at least when his mommy comes to visit.