Nothing More Than Nothing

It’s March, and in Colorado it’s snowing today! We had a sunny 73-degree day yesterday (23°C) and now there’s over a foot of fresh new snow on the ground. It’s still piling up as the daylight starts to fade. I’ve been warm inside, enjoying the luxury of seeing the beauty of it without having to be somewhere else. It makes me appreciate how much I like to be where I am.

I love the snow! The kid in me remembers the excitement, the delight of running in it, slipping and falling and sliding in it, eating it, throwing it, and the steamy wool smell of warming up after playing in it. As a grownup in my working years I lived in warm, sunny places — Texas, Thailand, Taiwan, and Southern California — until Stormy and I retired from regular work and went to Bulgaria as Peace Corps volunteers. We were so glad to get reacquainted with seasons! The sheer delight of seasonal changes included extremes of weather and temperature that we had not felt in years. It awakened those childhood memories for both of us. When we moved to Colorado a few years later we came into the realization that it’s something that we love. Change.

We’ve seen a lot of change in our lives. (I know, you don’t want me to start with the “When I was a kid” stories.) I went to a panel discussion about climate change last night, and a friend of mine has written a book on the matter. Harlow Hyde, served with us in Bulgaria. His book is titled Climate Change, of all things.1 Harlow is a numbers guy, and he has a serious background as a student of weather trends. He backs up his thesis with solid facts, and an engaging sense of humor. He rigorously lists all the big factors of climate, including the anthropogenic one (that’s us!) He lists and evaluates various links between human activity and rising global temperatures. After all, every single one of us little heat engines spend our lives turning food into energy, throwing off heat all the time! Then there’s the way we burn stuff, move stuff around, and make stuff out of other stuff. Just a little bit of heat from each activity, each individual one of us making hardly enough to matter. (He repents, actually, for his part in this travesty.) Well, I don’t want to give away the plot and you should really read it yourself. It’s an excellent and well-researched piece of work.

And politics — talk about change! What, are there changes in the country? Um, yes. What happened to Hope and Change? We’re seeing Panic and Change! Frenzy and Change! Fear and Change! But change, as always, is the constant. We live in it, react to it, and make it happen — or, depending on the subject, try to keep it from happening. Ha! Might as well try to keep the sea from rising.

Take closing the borders, sending people back to where they came from, for example. Can anyone have a civil conversation on that subject? I wonder. I know people who are working with refugee resettlement agencies, helping war refugees — refugees from bombing and fires and knives and threats and killings, who have lived in refugee camps for years and years, in tents or temporary shelters with freezing winter huddle-around-a-fire misery or desert scorching hot blazing-sun misery, relieved to be out of mortal danger but living in uncertainty and frustrated with slow-molasses bureaucracy and hopeful, ever hopeful of a life where they can work and raise their children in peace. And I know other people who call that kind of work, helping those people settle in America, dangerous, foolhardy, even treasonous. We can’t know they won’t bring their wars here, they say, and turn on us. They’ll bring their laws with them. They’ll take our jobs from us. Our economy can’t bear the burden. We can’t bear the burden.

snow treeToday’s snowfall is a burden on the trees. It’s heavy and wet, as is normal for snows this late in the season, so I put on my big-boy boots and went out with a long stick to knock the big fat clumps off some of the branches that were sagging heavily under the weight. We’ve had branches, big ones, break off with that kind of load. I couldn’t reach all of them that needed it, but it was the lower ones anyway that were reaching out farther, straining and nearly defeated under the heaviest loads. Needless to say, they were greatly relieved.

I thought of a little story about snowflakes. I read it as part of a 50th Anniversary memorial ceremony a few years ago, for Peace Corps volunteers who had died in service. It was called Nothing More Than Nothing.

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a coalmouse asked a wild dove.

“Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.

“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the coalmouse said. “I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow – not heavily, not in a raging blizzard – no, just like in a dream, without a sound and without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing, as you say – the branch broke off.”

Having said that, the coalmouse flew away.

The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for awhile, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”

  — from New Fables, by Kurt Kauter (1913-2002)2

One more. Perhaps.

Spring Will Come

Stormy smiles as she shovels

Stormy smiles as she shovels, doing a little cleanup at home in Colorado

Snow, snow, snow! Stormy and I enjoyed a month-long “home visit” back in Colorado, catching up on hugs with friends and family, going to our book club discussions, church activities, dinners, social gatherings, and shoveling a little snow. The cold white stuff had been pretty scarce in Durham before we left, but it seems it followed us back to the East Coast on our return. We tried to shake it, really we did, with stops in Phoenix and Los Angeles before coming back to the freeze. The wily weather system kept us in its sights though, to recapture us after our time out west in the warm and sunny weather with family and old friends.

Snowy Day

Snowy view from our apartment in Durham, NC

The 4 to 6-inch cover of sparkling beauty we had here in North Carolina a few days ago broke all kinds of local records, stopped traffic, closed schools and businesses, and knocked out electric service to thousands of people, including us for a day. The apartment got cold enough for us to start worrying about pipes freezing if the electricity stayed off for days (buildings here are lightly insulated, not like in Colorado), but thankfully the power came back on.

A thought crossed my mind about people living in refugee camps. It’s a ludicrous connection, to even dream of a comparison, I know. We live in a sturdy building, secured from rain and wind, with only the inconvenience of losing electricity for a little while. We have food, winter clothes, blankets, and each other.

Not everyone does, you know. Our friend Connie in Denver works with people who can’t afford (either for money or for their own mental health barriers) to come in out of the cold. And here’s an article about some people in other countries, plagued by war, pushed out from their homes into tents in the cold. They aren’t just camping for the enjoyment of nature: Syrian refugees bear Mideast snow.

Cold weather and snow trap Syrian refugees in their tents in Marjayoun, Lebanon, overnight as a cold snap persists. (Photo from http://english.yenisafak.com/)

I’ve written in this series about the cold and how it affects people in different climates; about the armed political instability around the Black Sea and conflict in Ukraine; and about Syrian refugees, desperate to escape devastation, overwhelming social services in Bulgaria. Ukraine teeters on the edge of a shaky cease-fire, with people being killed a little less often than a few weeks ago but still being killed. Meanwhile I live a comfortable life in a second home by choice, voluntarily relocated for a while to be near some of my family members, a matter of love.

Picture from Wikipedia, Martenitzi

Spring will come. I can feel it coming now, with snowmelt pouring off the roof after today’s sunny warming. There are shimmering little rivulets snaking toward the pond out back. Tree buds are nascent, though still sheathed. My dear Bulgarian friends and family will celebrate Baba Marta Day to help spring return to the land. Честита Баба Марта! Friendship, new life, renewal, the end of winter’s oppression and danger. Hope.

Spring should bring hope, shouldn’t it? Spring should always bring hope.


 

Speaking of snow, here is a review of another book about Bulgaria that I loved reading. It is a touching and dark vision, interweaving tales of surviving the vexations of nature, family, and oppression of the spirit. 

Cold Snap: Bulgaria StoriesCold Snap: Bulgaria Stories by Cynthia Morrison Phoel

My Review on Goodreads

Heavenly Thoughts

The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven: A Remarkable Account of Miracles, Angels, and Life Beyond This World

I read Heaven Is for Real, the book that’s sometimes confused with the one pictured here, for a book club. Then I found The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven and read it too, to add to the book club discussion. I finished it the day before the meeting, which was the same day the publisher announced that it was all made up. The young boy had admitted he just liked the attention, and his dad/co-author Kevin Malarkey “elaborated” on his son’s stories of shining and brilliantly colored scenery and beings, with fluffy clouds and feathers and gold all around. The boy and his mom, regretting the deception, had been trying to recant for a long time. No one would listen. People who had invested their belief into it didn’t want to give that up. Finally, probably fearing legal action with a made-up story being sold as true, the publisher issued a statement that they had been hoodwinked and recalled the book.

Sigh of relief. Maybe, just maybe, fewer people will be taken in by the perpetuation of this kind of myth and fantasy. The boy in the other book, Heaven Is for Real (recently made into a movie) is sticking to his story. For those who want to believe the currently popular mythological view of heaven (not that there’s anything wrong with that) Heaven Is for Real holds together a lot better. The dad/co-author (Todd Burpo) goes to some lengths to show that his son, as the heaven visitor, was not guided by leading questions. But this one, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven — pfft! Dare I say it? (Even though it’s hardly original, how can I resist?) Malarkey!

Stormy and I have experienced a run of deaths near us lately. A dear neighbor from our California days, then in quick succession a fellow chorister we were close with, a book club member whose love we shared, an elder cousin of mine, and a close church friend of Stormy’s all within a week. That long week was within the near shadow of the passing of Stormy’s dad and all the adjustments and changes the family is going through from that. People we know comfort each other by speaking of being “in a better place” and the thought that the departed will greet their loved ones and that we will see them again too.

I do like the thought of a heaven — who doesn’t, one way or another? I like the thought that it is all around us but some limitation prevents us from seeing it. Perhaps I should say prevents our bodies from seeing it. Theologies have been built, wars fought, and lives dedicated or squandered, all on speculating about how that limitation can or will be overcome. If physicists and cosmologists deal in string theory to conceive of parallel universes or a multiverse, and if there may be something to out-of-body or past life experiences — even if those are all within the mind of the believer (is there anything that is not thus?) — the idea of another existence constructed in other dimensions isn’t far removed. It could be true. It could be here.

I recall a favorite moment on a bright spring day, in our adopted “hometown” of Panagyurishte, Bulgaria, in the little courtyard of a café.

Resting quietly there with friends, listening to the birds and with all the trees in their new spring clothes, I remarked that it was like a little bit of paradise. Krassi told us the story of how the Bulgarians got their land…

When God made the world, He made places for all the people, or at least He meant to. The Bulgarians tugged at His sleeve and asked, “Did You forget us?” God actually had overlooked the Bulgarians but did not want to admit it, so He gave them a piece of heaven He had been saving for Himself, and said it had been made for them.

Breeze, p. 168

Thinking that heaven is all around us, right where we are, doesn’t preclude there being what is called in eulogies a “greater yet-to-be.” Some believe it’s where we came from, and the state to which we will return. Some believe it’s a process repeating over and over, to infinity. Eternity. The idea that I am not a body that has a soul, but a soul that has a body, turns the question upside down and places my existence in that higher context. The Christian Bible asserts that “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor 2:9) That doesn’t tell us where that place (calling it a place for convenience, bear with me) might be. I believe, though, that we are a part of it, and that no one can tell us about it.

When we get the slightest glimpse of it, like on a bright spring day with a good friend in the sun-dappled cool courtyard of a café, or on a mountaintop, or hearing a loved one breathe, it is a memory worth holding.


The first bit of this post is from a book review. If it interests you, I have more book reviews. Books with reviews are annotated “with text.”