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A Gift From Above, Wrapped in White

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page D01

Snow days are our Sabbath days. They bring with them a commandment to pause, to curl up by a fire, stay in your pajamas or go outside and catch a snowflake and marvel at its tiny beauty. Or do nothing.

Snow Sabbath days are the kind of days when your mother can actually catch you on your home phone and ask, "Hey, can you talk? What are you doing?"

"And you say, 'I'm doing nothing' " -- this time, without exasperation. "How are you, mama? I have nothing to do, so tell me about every single thing that is happening at home."

And she does.

And you listen as you look out the window and the snow is falling. And you have all the time in the world because the snow has given you permission to have nowhere to go.

Snow days are our Sabbath days. They remind you of the note you came across lying in the snow in Connecticut. The plain paper held down by a single, cold stone beckoned you to go inside the college chapel because, as the note promised, it was the most quiet place in the world. And you went inside because you had a few minutes before you had to rush to catch an airplane. And the silence inside was so thick it commanded you to "Be still."

And you did.

And the snow, this snow in Washington, reminds you that we have been too much in a hurry, pulled along by our collars, stressing, trying to make the clock slow down, beat the light, "making more and more money, but not getting any peace," as a friend's grandmother in Louisiana said. "More and more money and ain't getting no peace."

The snow is a bookmark in a loud world. Ordering respite, quiet, poetry.

Most men "lead lives of quiet desperation," Thoreau wrote.

Dante once said, "I am searching for that which every man seeks -- peace and rest."

Snow days, our Sabbath days, bring with them permission to do just that. Stop, take a walk in the woods, where the trees can whisper their secrets. And because no cars are speeding by and no loud thoughts come telling you that you've got to get somewhere to do something, to answer some call, you can hear the secrets.

The snow is falling ever so silently, a kind of Hollywood snow, so perfect it looks like it is coming out of a machine, a friend says. And you look at the stark, black beauty of the bare branches in winter. And you think with each snowflake comes a kind of peace. The kind of peace you can't get when the roads are dry and clear and you could go to the gym like you promised or take that vacuum cleaner back to Kmart and mail some letters and pick up a gallon of milk.

Snow days are the kind of days that lock you in the house with your thoughts and all those books you've been meaning to read but never did because you promised yourself you would read them at bedtime, after you get the kid to sleep, but the kid doesn't sleep on time because he has not yet learned to follow the commands of a clock.

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