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An irresistible compulsion – perhaps a self-destructive impulse – compels me to shovel snow in the worst possible weather with the worst possible equipment.

002My husband has asked me please just leave it. He’ll crank up the snow-blower and make a quick job of it after work. He tells me hundreds of people die of heart attacks from shoveling snow every year, and I must promise him that I won’t go out there with that bent up rusty shovel and do the whole corner lot and driveway by hand. He says he bought the snow-blower for a reason. And I tell him I like the exercise, don’t worry.

Sometimes I honestly do like the exercise. For the first few minutes, the chill exhilarates, the challenge seems worthy, and the rush of empowerment cheers me on. A snow-blower would be cheating; it would smell bad, waste gas, pollute the air, and make a god-awful noise in the lovely, crunchy, quiet snow. When the snow is light, a shovel is the only choice.

When the snow is heavy, the first few minutes still are good. Then, about one sixth of the way through clearing the driveway, through hacking away at the foot of the drive where the city plows have created sooty snow-cones from Hell, and through mounding up my own private Alps over my street gardens, my exuberance falters. My fingers get cold. My nose runs like a faucet. Somewhere a seam in my pants is pinching me in just the wrong place. If I were a sane person I would walk away. But I can’t.

I’m constitutionally incapable of leaving a project unfinished, especially a project as public as a sidewalk. I finish even if I don’t want to, even if my back aches and my hands go numb. The numb hand problem is one of the clever tricks my body has learned in the past few years. Apparently it’s some sort of arthritis or nerve damage. I won’t take drugs, so I can minimize it by stretching and by avoiding slave-type manual labor. Since I can’t bring myself to avoid slave-type manual labor with all this snow piled up, I know I’ll be waking up constantly tonight with pain and freaky dead-feeling hands.


So why endure this penance? There’s a message in the snow. I must do battle to decode it. Yes, this is a battle, and I will fight you, Snow, to the death. You are the enemy, and when I defeat you today, my victory shall be absolute. Snow, you shall not win.

By now I’m getting sweaty under all my clothes and wondering why I bundled up so much in the first place, but stopping for any reason seems tantamount to defeat. There’s so much snow I don’t even know where to put it. Shoveling snow is one thing, but lifting or throwing it over and over and over again is a Sisyphean task. I toss it atop the mound on the curb, and chunks come tumbling right back down again.

Finishing the driveway, I’m completely worn out. I’m done. But I’m not: I have two stretches of sidewalk on our corner, a front walkway with a graceful {difficult} curve, steps to the front door, and the garden path in the backyard to make a clear walkway from garage to house. The sidewalk ahead of me looks 800 miles long.

I decide to handle this by not looking up at the magnitude of the task. The snow is so deep, I can’t just push the shovel along and toss a few flakes to the side whimsically every few feet. This snow is six or seven inches deep, soggy and half frozen. Every move forward fills the shovel, so I have to inch forward slowly, lift the heavy snow, throw it off to the side, bang the shovel on the sidewalk to release the sticky remains, try not to look up to see I’ve only moved about ten inches forward, and repeat. Again and again and again.

I’m going through this repetitive motion the whole length of the sidewalk not once, but two to three times to clear the entire width of the walkway. It seems like it will never end. I’m not even angry at the snow anymore. I don’t even care if I win. I just want this feeling to end. This useless, uncomfortable, interminable drudgery-I want it to stop. I want to feel like a human, not like a workhorse. I don’t want to feel so burdened.

Inching along shovelful by shovelful, I realize why I needed to come out here and torture myself. This is exactly like grief. You get up when you don’t want to, bundle up, try to face the piles of precipitation bearing unkindly down upon you, grab your shovel, and inch by inch you try to make a workable path of your life without the one you love. Your body hurts, you can barely see any progress, and you know it’s going to snow again tomorrow. But you get up, and you do what needs doing. You finally clear the way; you look up and breathe easy for a moment. When the sun reflects on the snow, it does indeed look like diamonds.

011You make a path every day, and the blanket of snow falls again every night. You keep clearing the same path, sometimes carefully, sometimes carelessly. You dig out of your grief every day in hope and belief that someday there will be a little more sun and a little less snow. If it’s true that seasons always change, soon there may be a thaw, and the tip of a flower or green grass my peek at you shyly, then boldly, then bloom and say, “Yes, you may. You may live again. You may bloom.”