Did anyone else feel like me – rather disorientated, if not downright confused? It doesn’t take much to bring disruption, loss of control with it’s sidekick anxiety, a kind of paralysis and uncertainty. Having to deal with a change in plans and expectations can bring out all our issues of insecurity and it doesn’t even have to be dreadful news, a death, an accident – in fact the big things are somehow easier because it’s obvious what takes priority and nothing else really matters in comparison. Adrenaline comes to one’s aid and people are understanding and kind. But a generalised thing like the weather? Really?
I suppose we thought Spring was well on its way, with the crocuses already peppering the grass with orange and purple, buds on the shrubs and daffs, the sight of sunshine slanting through the branches. 1st March is actually the beginning of the meteorological new season – though we usually celebrate the solstice on 21st as the first day of Spring. Not long to wait! How are the horse chestnuts doing? They are always first to produce leaves... We do conveniently forget that Spring is very changeable, that we can have snow as late as April and ‘ne’er cast a clout til May is out’
BAM! The Beast from the East comes visiting. Isn’t it strange that name has caught on across all the media outlets in the UK? Invented by one of the tabloids and sounds like it, but in the absence of a catchier moniker… that’s the power of social media in our time. I prefer the Siberian Bear, used by the Dutch, or even the ‘snow cannon’ adopted by the Swedes. Perhaps they rhyme in their languages…? It has certainly been a Europe-wide phenomena and a lot colder on the Continent than it is here.
Anyway, we’d been fore-warned and things were already turning nasty in Scotland and the NE. So when I woke up on March 1st, due to be in Sussex by 10am here he was, The Beast, definitely not a Prince under a spell or a heavy metal album or even a Russian boxer or American wrestler, but a polar vortex. We had some snow, yes – not that much in the Midlands actually, not until Storm Emma joined in later on – but mostly the COLD! If you don’t know exactly what was going on in the earth’s atmosphere, Google took me to this article – in The Sun appropriately – which explains it all so I don’t have to 😉 But then everyone apart from us has a TV and the weather people had probably already told you everything.
Of course the transport situation was affected – this is Britain, we’d expect no less! I’d already realised I might have to call off my annual appointment in Horsham, with the train’s departure stations probably already (literally) snowed under with frozen points, etc. Although things seemed OK here the countrywide news was not good and apparently there was no question of driving anywhere…
But on Thursday I was booked on the first train to London and still dutifully got up at 5am to find out if I could still make it. Yes, it was very cold, even inside the house… ah, because lo and behold, the boiler was on the blink! I had to ignore that for now… too busy, too dark: I managed a cool shower. The night before I’d made a deal with myself/God that if my train was still running I’d go, but if it was cancelled that would be a definitive decision. As I got dressed in the dark I looked up the live train information – so far it was slightly delayed – in fact it hadn’t yet left Nottingham. Put on make up, drank tea, about to bid no-longer sleeping husband farewell – oh, there it is train cancelled! We live near enough to the station that I hadn’t actually had to go out to catch it yet but …now what? Come back to bed, he said. I’ve done my make up, I can’t! I said. And – oh, I really do have to let them down! Oh dear, I’d better text now…
I really should have been very happy at this point – I actually really didn’t want to make the long journey to teach 2 sessions about things I learned over 10 years ago, even if it is important stuff to pass on to the younger generation – especially in this weather! I’d actually been dreading going, not really prepared properly, my head like scrambled egg – planning to wing it! But instead of relief, I felt guilty! And ‘What if they’re upset with me for not trying harder?’ I should try harder – catch the next train, try to make the connections…” But I might not have got home again with Storm Emma approaching from the SW. My husband put his foot down.
Of course when I rang them it was fine, everyone understood perfectly and they were very gracious, making other plans for the day, talking about reimbursing my train fare. Funny that I still felt rattled, couldn’t relax, couldn’t enjoy it – a whole free day when I wasn’t expecting it! I had the freedom children feel on a sudden ‘snow day’ but that little girl inside me had always had to be good and try as I might to change my behaviour, I’m still so driven by duty and ‘doing the right thing’. I recognise Martha, from the Gospel stories, telling her sister Mary to come and help in the kitchen, there are things to do, boxes to tick. But Mary is making the most of the moment, and that’s what Jesus approves (Luke 10v38-42)
That’s the point really – what I have realised through these crazy days of having to change all my plans: I hate changing my plans! But it is usually good for me – good to be flexible, real, adaptable and more aware of what’s appropriate each day. Good to live one day at a time, not dictated to by a list of things to be done, but by a deeper and more peaceful sense of rightness – and my limitations. This requires humility and the willingness to admit my weaknesses rather than pushing myself on to prove my ‘goodness’ and cleverness.
Also there is the beauty and the wonder, the child-like appreciation of something out of the ordinary, the free gift of a new landscape. Snow comes and changes what everything looks like, takes away the familiar markers – it’s not surprising we have to cope with a certain amount of confusion and work out how to deal with the new situation. We easily forget that weather systems are one thing we cannot control. There should be a sense of awe, not anger that our routine has been disturbed! Don’t they call it an ‘Act of God’? Submission, anyone? 😉
Looking back I see there has been a lot of grace over these days. On Thursday there was grace to cancel the arrangements. On Friday there was grace to actually get to London (on a delayed train) and meet a friend as we’d planned and then, despite the reduced train service, get home again. An adventure in the snow and great views from the carriage windows 🙂 By Saturday and Sunday I’d given in: our visitors cancelled their trip and we rang our daughter to put off meeting in London until another time: the necessity and sense of rearranging was obvious to everyone involved.
Perhaps best of all, we didn’t freeze with no heating or hot water – we simply lived in our old upstairs flat with the boiler that was still working! Yes, we have two, from the time the house was divided. It felt very strange (and inconvenient, as my bossy ‘trying to be good’ part insisted!) It felt like shrinking back into a previous existence, when we first moved into this property as tenants in 2014… and actually, that too has had a sweetness about it. The downstairs kitchen was absolutely freeeezing and I was so glad I could collect food to bring upstairs to cook! How many people have that sort of advantage when their boiler breaks down?
Gratitude is of course the answer. I had actually been dreading the busyness of those 4 days in a row, knowing I wasn’t really up for it, but of course determined to keep my word… Having been unexpectedly given the freedom and release from harness I’m sobered to realise I couldn’t adapt and relax enough to really make the most of it. I have a long way to go to allow the child in me to be carefree – to laugh and play. It is a choice to be grateful for unexpected turns of events that teach us about ourselves and our littleness. On top of that, I haven’t felt well this weekend – aches, pains and tiredness, perhaps getting a cold. I needed space and rest to be kind to myself – another thing I find hard. How to change the habits of a lifetime, that is the question!? Certainly recognising the issues and bringing them out into the open is a start.
The sun’s come out today – I can see green grass again and it is a lot warmer. Later the repair man will come and hopefully we’ll get some warmth downstairs and the rest of the house back – normal service resumed. All the familiar plants and borders are back in the garden, the shapes and bumps and weeds in the lawn are exposed and I suppose I feel a bit like that myself! But I do take encouragement that Jesus loved Martha and her sister… (John 11v5) He didn’t prefer one sister over the other, He was just correcting expectations about behaviour. I actually don’t have to beat myself up that so often I am like Martha, ‘worried and upset about many things’ because she isn’t bad – she has strengths and weaknesses just as her sister and we all do – she’s just responsible and has to learn to relax and choose Mary’s better way of approaching life!
I hope I can remember the discomfort of these days and the lessons learned: freedom and kindness, gratitude and grace.