Monday, February 23, 2009

Hope hides in the secret of snow

(printed first in

It was 1979. February 18th. A most remarkable thing happened. It never happened before in all of recorded history. It has not happened since.

Thirty years ago, it snowed in the Southern Algeria part of the Sahara Desert.

It lasted for about a half an hour, and vanished as soon as it fell.

But what a quietly spectacular event.

Why is it that this ephemeral event, snow that vanishes with almost a sizzle on hills of burning and scorched sand thousands of miles away, why is it that this gives rise to hope?

I love the sheer sass of it -- the great defiant now of it. Snow comes to the desert, indeed. Did Nature's moth seek Nature's flame? Did God play a sprightly joke? Was there an odd confluence of biorhythms and astrological pivots? Did the Great Global Warming Beast hiccup? Beats me.

I just take this as a tangible sign in the universe that anything is possible.

It gives me such hope, this fluke of nature. Whenever something happens that I could never imagine I realize that I have no control over the outcomes in my particular personal universe, really. Even my peripheral vision, ample though it is, may not see possibilities that are real, that can happen, that fly in the face of convention.

When I was in graduate school in Ohio, I got to know an older student from Tanzania. He had never seen snow before. One day in early winter, it started to blizzard out of nowhere. He ran outside and picked up a huge handful of snow, and stood there with an absolute look of astonishment on his face. "What is it?" I asked. He replied, "I had never imagined that it would be!" He had rarely thought of snow at all. He hadn't needed to. And when he did think about it, he never thought about how it might feel against his skin. Cold. It felt cold. What a delicious surprise!

He laughed and laughed as a group of us taught this brilliant student of age 35 how to make his first snow person. He went home that night, excited and delighted to teach his little children how to throw snowballs and how to make people out of snow.

He knew about snow. He had expected to see it. But he had no idea that it was cold. There was still a shocking element of surprise and wonderment to be had, even with all he did know.

In the pockets of our days, in the corners of what we expect, in the dim recesses of our wildest dreams, there are still surprises to be had. There are secret joys. Things that make us feel like children again. Flashes of happiness amid moments of despair.

We imagine, with all our computers and watches and blackberries and PDA's and twitter addresses and email and late breaking news and software and devices of every nature and description from automatic juicers to globally orbiting telescopes that we somehow have our arms around the world of possibilities. If we haven't thought it up, someone we know has. Or will.

Outcomes can be predicted with surveys, charts, research and statistics. Data will tell the story, if we just get enough of it to fill in the gaps.

Then it goes and snows in the Sahara.

I love the sputter of that event. I imagine Mother Nature thumbing her metaphorical nose at us, reminding us of her wild self, the crazy glory of God's creation, the defiance of life in general.

Flowers grow out of chinks in the pavement. People fall deeply in love and stay together through their lives. Out of the blue a friend calls to reconcile. Some astonishing act of grace happens. A job offer comes from the blue. People heal. Life goes on with these wild streaks of impossibly actualized possibility running through it.

You can't plan for miraculous events, surprise blizzards. Sometimes I think the world of miraculous events is like a room full of ping pong balls balanced on mousetraps. One sets off and bounces and another and another and pretty soon balls are popping all over. There's just no telling where they will pop up next.

It's so easy to get the blues, isn't it? Real life hands us such a bouquet of all-too-real real sorrows. People we love die. We get sick, or someone we love does. Finances in this economy are scary. Wars happen. Families break and fracture. There isn't enough (fill in the substance here) to go around globally.

And then it snows in the Sahara.

I say, in light of that event, that it is worth living with some hope. It is worth living with an attitude of abundance.

Make way in your heart for good things to bounce in. Deliberately bounce them into someone else's life. Believe that even ridiculously wonderful things can happen.

Charlie the Service Dog has been paired with a young autistic boy named Tim. Read the sweet story about the tiny miracle that happened at their house.

Nathalie decided to bring the "snow to the Sahara" via a "Random Act of Knitting". Read this touching story of her surprise gift to a bank teller she didn't know.

In Janiece's fabulously named blog, Hot Chicks Dig Smart Men, she speaks about how Darwin's theory of Evolution gives her hope.

Lizzie Goodfriendis a consultant in Liberia with rape survivors. She says "The consultation, our second of four regional 'dialogues', was a joint effort by the Women's NGO Secretariat of Liberia (Wongosol) and International Center for Transitional Justice, with support from UNIFEM and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, to give women the space and opportunity to reflect on the process of an ongoing truth and reconciliation commission (TRC), to express how they think it could have been done better, to let us know what they hope comes out of the TRC, and to generally discuss how transitional justice, as a set of tools, can have meaning or use in their lives." During the consultation, something very unexpected, very dramatic, very painful and very essential happens. Read her blog to see.

Snow is falling everywhere. We have but to look, and to recognize it when we see it. And to listen closely to its lessons. Shhhhhh. Get quiet with me.....Let's listen together. Tell me what you hear.

What messages of hope, or joy or goodness have surprised you lately?


Blogger Carolyn said...

HI! And thanks so much for the shout out on your blog! I love this post - just thinking about snow in the desert makes my head spin!

11:59 AM  
Blogger Linnea said...

Thank you again for som excellent and inspiring writing. Sometimes I feel like the crazed fan leaving comments al over. Well, my main point in addition to thanking you for the article here, is to say that I hope you get a good translation if you decide to read Sigrid Undset. The old one I found secondhand (from the 1950s I believe) seems a bit "square" and "pointy" in a way, not really conveying the feel of her language, but then, English is not my mother tongue. Have a good Sunday! Linnea

6:30 AM  
Blogger Mata H said...

thanks so much for your comments. I write this stuff and never know who if anyone is reading it, and if I managed to touch anyone who does. It helps enormously to hear that communication is actually happening!!

10:47 AM  

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