• Aarik Danielsen

The Next Last Snow

Two Thursdays ago, a few minutes after 8 p.m., I crossed the threshold of my front door into the flawless white.


Missourians know the phenomenon of false spring, a brief and unbiblical hope that so often puts us to shame. After several promising days, our weather moved in reverse and the March sky gave up its snow. Offering faith once more—trusting this storm as winter’s end—I set out to be surrounded.


With uncommon brightness overhead and underfoot, I beat a path down Ash Street before bearing right on Garth Avenue. Up to Broadway’s edge to glimpse our library grazed by snow, then back the way I came.




The flakes fell broad and soft. They brushed their cold and bittersweet kisses on my face, the sensation lingering long past the touch. And the air held so still; even the slightest ripple in the heavens sounded like a rock and roll band handling live cords.


Just steps before home, I paused at the corner of Ash and Anderson Avenue to hold the moment in my mind, then preserve it in a picture. Posting the image online, I gathered a crowd—at least by my standards. Friends and acquaintances wowed over the scene, a modest Midwestern home as tranquil as it gets.


 
Instinctively, we move toward either end of our human timeline. Some reach back for their youthful daring, grasping at a substance that slips through the fingers. Others look ahead to death, scheduling each day left in cosmic response.
 

But what they really saw was me. Dusted white, yet aglow from within. Fit for the storm and, so, in love with it. Barely able to convey with a thousand words what one passerby might spy.


Instinctively, we move toward either end of our human timeline. Some reach back for their youthful daring, grasping at a substance that slips through the fingers. Others look ahead to death, scheduling each day left in cosmic response. To sing along as Eddie Vedder warbles “the in-between is mine,” and accept the middle on its own terms, takes practice. But this is where I want to be.


Making my March snow march means embracing memento mori—“remember you have to die”—and then backing up a dozen paces. I know the pull of a certain temptation: to start the clock ticking or treat each day like my last. If God wills, I’ll know 40 more winters with all their attendant chances to wind around my neighborhood. Or I might die tomorrow, and each snow represents my only guarantee.


Projecting these thoughts—sound enough in their spirit and logic—into the every day, maybe I justify turning on a dead-of-August baseball game. After all, only 40 more seasons to watch the San Francisco Giants rush the Los Angeles Dodgers. Maybe I turn Wilco’s “Ashes of American Flags” as loud as it will go, each dark soundwave magnetizing my bones. I may never hear it again.


But I don’t know what I don’t know. So I set my hand on a stack of Bibles and swear by the information I’m given. I may greet 40 more winters or draw my last breath in summer. But I’m certain we won’t see another snow this season, so I faithfully stray into the storm.


Wanting to bear witness as Brandon Crawford plays his balletic shortstop today, I switch on the Giants broadcast. I pray for life enough to spin each Wilco album a hundred more times back to front. But acquainted with the warp of a given day, I probably have this one chance to salute the ashes of American flags at full volume. I move the dial.


Maybe I settle for this middle way, for these momentary judgment calls. To seize a season, or live with your legacy in mind, requires ambition. A fine-tuning of your impulses. My impulses too often misfire. And even the noblest ambition never quite suited me.


 
Most days, the prospect of making a whole life comes with too much pressure. Just give me each next chance at faithfulness.
 

Most days, the prospect of making a whole life comes with too much pressure. Just give me each next chance at faithfulness.


My deathbed flashbacks may reveal a lack of days ending with exclamation points. But I notice the moments which stick to my soul and see their effect. Small mercies multiply like the bread and fish. Faithfully choosing this wine and that song, continuing a conversation, or stepping into the next last snow, makes me who I am.


Two nights ago, a few minutes before 8 p.m., I heard the rain come down outside. The sound, like an old jazz drummer playing with brushes; each hit quiet, yet still direct and in time. Taking the opposite path, I traveled Ash Street to West Boulevard, around the other side of the library and home.


Raindrops stretched themselves into thin, Christmas Eve candles beneath a streetlamp’s gaze; they congregated on still-bare branches that will know spring bloom in weeks, maybe sooner.


The former stillness resigned its post; any kisses—tender and chaste, or mad with desire—absent. Just the old drummer keeping time upon my raincoat. Each beat streaked my sleeve a new black, then sloughed away, returning to the earth by design. The ordinary baptism took hold, provoking silent prayers, thank-yous for not keeping dry.


In his fifty-fifth dispatch, the prophet Isaiah ensures the effect of God’s word. Like the rain and snow tumbling out of heaven, it does what it means to do. I cannot speak to each Scripture’s accomplishments, but I will vouch for the storm.


Whether the next last snow or first in a series of spring rains, no night repeats itself. No sound will echo what’s in my ear right now; no sensation will feel quite like this. My life is sure to end some appointed day without my knowing or blessing, but never let these moments elude me. To miss them means forfeiting another chance to be myself.





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