The snow grew deeper, and we wondered if it would ever stop, and by Saturday afternoon I decided I should begin the gargantuan task of digging out our Suburban. Our four oldest kids joined me, though they were clearly on the side of the blizzard, throwing snowballs into my shoveled pathways and jumping from pile to pile, causing avalanches to fill in the trails I had so recently cleared. I was part snow digger and part scarecrow, waving my shovel, frightening them off.
Saturday night was filled with movies and popcorn and long spates of time spent staring out into the swirling, blowing snow as it fell through the light on James Street. This is the blessing of storms: they make us stop. They take our schedules and shred them and ask, “Now what will you do with your life?”
We ended up with just under 30 inches of snow. On Sunday afternoon, I finally finished disinterring our vehicle from its icy grave. The snow around it was up to my chest. I sent Abra and Sammy on to the roof of the truck to clear it off. After about five hours of digging, it was nearly free, and there was a path to the house. My job was done.
Late Sunday afternoon we drove to my parents, breaking free from the parking spot I had spent so long clearing.
Heavenly Father, I prayed out loud as we drove away, please make that parking spot invisible to anyone who is looking for a space before we return. Amen.
I was mostly kidding. Maile laughed, but I’m not sure if she was laughing at the prayer or the chances of the space being empty when we got back.
More fun, more snow, a little football, some time holding my sister’s twins, and then we were driving home, around 9pm. I’m not sure what I expected to find…one lone, empty space still sitting there? Would every single person on my street looking for a space see that empty gap along the sidewalk and think, Someone spent a lot of time clearing that, so I’m going to leave it for when they get back?
I doubted it.
As we came up James Street, there it was: some kind of small, four-wheel drive vehicle snugly (it felt more like “smugly”) parked in the spot I had spent so much time and effort clearing. There were no open spaces on the block. I sighed. I dropped off my pregnant wife and our five kids, drove around the block to the parking garage, parked on the fourth floor, walked down three flights of steps, slid my way back up the hill to our house, and walked down the sidewalk (part of which had not yet been cleared by the neighbors, in spite of the city’s snow-clearing policies).
I pushed the bitterness down as best I could but it still got to me, sort of the way you try not to throw up when you’re sick but still feel the burn in your throat.
I’ve spent far too much time thinking about this fairly minor episode in my life. At least it feels that way. I’ve certainly spent enough time thinking about it to realize that the way we handle snow clearing here in the city is reflective of the way we view the ones Jesus commanded us to love: Our Neighbor. It’s so easy to think of these common spaces, the ones we spend so much time clearing, as our own. It’s so easy for me to stake my claim to small or large pieces of this world and say, “This far but no further!”
I wonder though. I wonder about the questions I was asking on the drive back into the city Sunday night, before I knew if someone parked in the spot I had cleared.
What kind of a person steals a spot they haven’t cleared?
What kind of a person rides on the back of someone else’s hard work?
Why didn’t I stick some furniture in the space, blocking access to it?
I think the questions we ask ourselves when it comes to these kinds of things not only reveal our hearts – I think they also proactively create who we are becoming. I want to ask better questions. I really do. Questions like:
Wouldn’t it be great if someone who really needs a good parking space finds mine empty?
What can I do to help an elderly person or a sick person find my spot tonight when I’m gone?
This is the blessing of living in the city, of living in community. No matter how much we want to, we can never completely isolate ourselves from our neighbor. No matter how hard we try, we cannot claim these public spaces as our own. We have to learn to live side-by-side, to offer grace, to think the best of one another.
This is a gift, this snow, these “stolen” parking spaces. Trust me. This is a gift.