White Christmas

When I left my family’s house on the 26th, it was snowing.  It had started snowing on Christmas Eve, and kept the habit up, on and off, with breaks for the air to crystallize, for two days.  It was the first white Christmas we’ve had in some time, and one of the best in memory.

Northern Virginia is a beautiful place, but it has its drawbacks.  One of them is that, despite the regional adjective, it really is a part of the Commonwealth and, ipso fatso (as my Freshman Philosophy prof., himself a rather large man, liked to say) a Southern State.  You have to live pretty far west, farther even than my parents do, and be pretty high up in the mountains if you want a traditional winter.  And even then, there’s no rain-making Merlin to ensure that your household, like Arthur’s in Camelot, will always have the right weather for the time.

But God is good; and this Christmas the weather was just right.  I don’t think it can have iced much even, since my dad didn’t complain when we drove to midnight Mass.  Even midnight Mass—which the kind pastor treacherously transferred to eleven p.m. without informing us—was just right, since we had all the good intentions of being midnightish and all the good luck of getting to home an hour earlier than expected.  This meant that we got to hear Old Radio on the way there, and on the way back, got to go in on Orson Welles’ Christmas Carol and out on the Christmas Story.  It doesn’t get much more perfect than that.

But how spoiled we would all be if it happened this way every time!  I might be, at least.  This Christmas wouldn’t have been half so beautiful if the last several hadn’t been dry or else greeny moldy grey.

It keeps on coming down.  Before I was even halfway into the city the snow had stopped; by the time I got home it was a nasty heavy rain—tolerable enough under ordinary circumstances, and even enjoyable in certain moods; but not an acceptable substitute for the alternative.  Yesterday and the day before were much the same, if dryer.  Then this morning I got up and went to Mass, and then to the grocery store: two good and noble things, but both in their own kind ways of avoiding the hour of office work I’d set myself to do this morning, before moving on to works more pleasurable.

As I was checking out, the cashier looked up and back over her shoulder, and her fact sprung out with a little smile of delight.  “It’s snowing,” she said—not in the glum way people generally do, but as if she weren’t quite done being a child either.  Then she became concerned.  “Do you have to walk home?”

I could have, with the not-so-many groceries; but I couldn’t because of my car, and I told her so.  “I wish I could,” I said.  “It’s beautiful.”

It’s still falling.  Half an hour ago it looked as if it might stop, but now the ground has started to trun frosty, and the narrow flashing on the top of the neighbors’ fence has a coating of white.  The dead pampas grass are beginning to have silver hairs among the straw; and the white lattice (left by the previous rentees who vainly attempted some kind of vegetables) looks afronted at no longer being the cleanest thing in the back lawn.

I think I appreciate the snow more for not having expected it, and more still for not having had it yet; it’s even better than it was at my family’s place.  But then, this whole season has been one of “even betters”.  After working sixty or more hours a week, I find myself working twenty; and the “even better” of this vacation has surpassed that of any other.  I know perfectly well what to do with myself—all sort of glorious things—Joseph Pieper was quite right about leisure—and perhaps I know all the better just what I ought to be doing, and what I want to do—and they are the same thing now, as they should be—better than I would have known if I hadn’t had a kind of Advent first.

Hearing “no” when you want something badly is always hard, whether it be a certain gift for Christmas, or snow, or the time to finish X, or … what you will.  I’ve always consoled myself by telling myself that the thing in the end will be “even better” than the thing that was denied.  It takes a particular kind of faith, not necessarily the theological kind, but if not then certainly its close cousin, to keep on believing that; and it is kind of faith that doesn’t come naturally.  Like all faith, too, it is destined to die—oh, not always in a terrible way (God forbid) but if not like that then by a kind of apotheosis, were you see, or at least begin to see, that you were right to believe in the existence of an “even better” all along.



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