Calm in the eye of the storm

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Winnipeg got hit by a snowstorm last night. The temperature is hovering right at the freezing point, so what we have is a mass of heavy, damp white stuff that’s sticking to trees and piled six inches high on stairway railings and car roofs.

I had to do things a bit differently this morning. Got up a few minutes early, started getting dressed even before the tea water had boiled, packed lunch, had a slightly larger breakfast with granola and a banana to fortify myself. With six minutes in hand before my usual departure for the bus, I went out on the front porch, grabbed a snow shovel, and got to it.

The first thing I noticed was how heavy the snow was. I took smaller, faster bites and cleared a place to stand, then a narrow path down the stairs. About halfway down the stairs I saw the Nanjing cherry in the front yard, branches sagging almost to the ground. I went into triage mode, focus changing from “Shovel a path out to the road” to “Save that tree!” I couldn’t get around to the south side of the cherry bush, but I was able to reach far enough with the shovel to knock off most of the snow. As the tree sprang back to its usual height I resumed taking bites out of the snow and cut my way through to the street; then I put away the shovel, grabbed my purse and my lunch bag, and set out for the bus stop.

It was slow going, walking in tire ruts and stepping aside to let cars pass, but I wasn’t especially worried. There was a possibility of missing the bus, but also a possibility that the bus was delayed.  It did show up about ten minutes later than usual, but as I waited I felt peaceful.  I didn’t have to be anywhere — not yet, anyway.  It wasn’t cold or windy, so I just wandered around at the stop, crunching the new snow underfoot and enjoying the quiet.

The bus came eventually and I got to the office at 8:02, which made me one of the early arrivals.  Not surprisingly, everyone else’s bus was late too.

A few years ago I started looking into Stoicism.  I haven’t read many of the classics yet, just Meditations by Marcus Aurelius so far, but I was introduced to the philosophy about eight years ago by a radio interview on the show Ideas on CBC Radio.  The featured guest was William Irvine, author of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.  If any one concept got through to me that day, it was the novel idea of focusing only on the things that one can actually do something about.

Obviously it’s pointless for a passenger to worry about the bus being late.  There was a time, though, where I would have been in self-inflicted agony, gnawing at my own insides as we crawled from stop to stop, checking my watch every few seconds and wondering how I was going to explain myself when I finally got to where I was going.  That’s what that kind of worry is, isn’t it — “What will people think?”  That’s something else I can’t control, other people’s reactions.

The epiphany of realizing that it’s okay to let go of uncontrollable things is tremendously freeing.  The main thing it frees up is energy, energy that can be used for something else.

Like rescuing a woebegone cherry tree from its burden of snow, for instance.

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