With a single flake of snow, winter begins. Like that first faint shadow of twilight, we hardly take notice of it.
The autumn leaves, glorious and resplendent, catch our attention as we hurry through our lives; but that first flake of snow is the sentry of winter and we like to pretend it is not there. We go on about our lives relying on calendars and watches to keep track of seasons and time. Still, winter begins with a single snowflake, whether or not the calendar agrees.
But today, a single flake of snow does catch my eye. It is a dull, gloomy, and lifeless autumn afternoon. The air is chilly, but not cold. My eyes follow the the snowflake as it falls slowly to the ground while my mind drifts back to another time – when the world was a simpler place.
I’m getting off the school bus. It’s the last day before Christmas vacation. I am nine years old. I am happy and running towards my little house, on a quiet street, in a small village near the south shore of Lake Erie. It is snowing lightly and watching it fall lights the childish joy inside me. It is a dull, gloomy, late-autumn afternoon – the light is weak and tired – but to me, a child, it’s a winter wonderland; bright and happy – and it warms my soul.
Mom greets me as I open the door. She smiles and asks me how school was. It was OK, I think. She’s in the kitchen cooking. Steam rises off a big pot of something. It smells delicious. Everything mom cooked for us always smelled wonderful.
Dad isn’t home from work yet.
The windows of the house are steamy. It is warm and cozy inside. I feel a peace only a child who is loved can feel. Everything is right in my little world – no school for two weeks – no school buses -no homework – no teachers- no classes. And it is snowing outside. It’s ten days before Christmas and I can hardly wait.
More decades have passed than I care to admit since I was that nine year-old boy who came home on that last day of school before Christmas. But I still recall the smiles and laughter as we boarded that school bus. I can hear the joyous sounds of that day and friends saying: “See you next year” as the bus chugged away. I can see those scenes and hear the voices of children as if it happened yesterday.
The days of our lives which have passed can exist only in memory. As long as we think of them, they can still exist. Every “today” will be a tiny fragment of a “tomorrow” as long as we remember it.
The single snowflake melts and disappears into a pile of dry, dead leaves lying in piles on the ground. And, though the calendar says “November” – winter begins with this first flake of snow. Winter begins when it will. Life begins when it will and death comes when it will. Calendars and watches do not dictate Nature’s path – they just help us keep track of our lives.
Time is indeed relative. It plays tricks on you. Those two-week Christmas vacations from school seemed like an eternity when I was a child. Children’s time passes slowly and the years ahead seem misty and endless as they stretch into forever. Children have entire lifetimes to live. They’ve only taken a few steps on life’s great journey..
The older we get the faster time passes. The older we get the less time we have left to live. It does not seem fair. But, no matter what we think or say or do, time passes as it will, without concern for our insignificant whining – and without regard for our computers, clocks and calendars. Nature does not care what time it is. In the Grand Design, time has no meaning. It doesn’t matter.
Winter starts with a single snowflake and ends with a tiny crocus working its way up through the frozen soil. Winter begins and ends when it will and spring follows it just as surely as darkness follows daylight.
Autumn starts when that first solitary golden leaf flutters down from a tree – whether anyone is there to see it or not. In the Grand Design time is irrelevant. Nature cares nothing about time. Millions of “years” from now all our clocks, watches and calendars will have turned to dust, but a single flake of snow will fall somewhere and winter will begin.
Life begins and ends as it will and we can only watch in wonder as life is given and with sorrow as life is taken away. Doctors meddle the physicalities of life – extending the quantity, perhaps the quality of it for a bit longer perhaps than it would have lasted. All our “miracle” medical technologies help us borrow a bit more of what we call “time”. Whether we borrow a day, a month, a year or even a decade, it is an insignificant drop of water in the endless oceans of the Grand Design.
The lifetime of a star is measured in billions of years – and we are lucky to live eighty. The universe is hundreds of billions of years old – and we strut about proudly as if our lives on this earth, in this galaxy, in this universe- have some great importance.
We are all just a speck of light – a infinitely brief and insignificant flicker – that quickly bursts upon the landscape of forever and fades without notice into the fabric of the Grand Design.
We think ourselves and our lives important; but we are insignificant in the magnificence of the universe. But we are as significant and as glorious as even the brightest of stars. Our lives can be as beautiful as the most exquisite nebula. We have as much right to be here as the grandest spiral galaxy – or that single, spring dandelion. We all are important. We are all part of a Grand Design.
If we look we will find that the stars, galaxies and that wind-swept dandelion are all made of the same stuff – by the same wondrous Hand. Not one is less or greater than the other. Everything and everyone has a right to be here.
Mankind prides itself on its magnificent technology but we cannot even answer some of the simplest of questions:
Where did the universe come from?
What caused the big bang?
Why are we here?
Why are there trees?
Why must we die?
Why are no two snowflakes alike?
Winter begins with a single snowflake – and ends with the first sproutings of spring. Beginnings and endings. A continuous and glorious cycle. Everything has a beginning. Everything has an end. And that is the essence and the beauty of it all.
There is an intelligent design to the universe and to the order of things. At least I believe there is. Educators don’t agree with this. They think Darwin figured it all out. He may have gotten it right, but no one will never prove it. Maybe there are some things we’re not supposed to prove. Indeed, the mysteries of life give it its meaning just as darkness gives meaning to light – and winter gives meaning to spring – and autumn gives meaning to summer – and death gives meaning to life.
Just like that single flake of snow falling silently through the air we all take a single first step. And we all take one final step. With all our calendars, computers, watches and clocks – we never know when our last step will come.
We all see our first sunrise. And we will all someday see our last sunrise; there was a first day we woke up in the morning and there will be a last time we’ll wake up in the morning; a first time we planted a garden and a last time we will plant a garden. One day in our lives we saw our first snowflake and we’ll all see our last snowflake. Once in our lives we experienced a first glorious spring day; and just as certainly we will experience the elegant, soft winds of a first spring day for a final time.
We can take comfort in the Grand compassion: none of us will never know when we are doing things for the very last time. Yet, just as surely as we all do things for the very first time, we will all do things for the very last time as well. Many people find this thought uncomfortable; I find it exhilarating. Everything is as it was meant to be.
All our calendars, watches and timekeeping devices are nothing but inventions that help us keep track of the moments of our lives. When it comes to the grand and wonderful scheme of things these inventions are meaningless. The grand clock of the Grand design ticks on without regard to our insignificant lives. It is how it should be – because that is how it is.
All we can do is take the time we are given and do what we can to leave the world a little better place than we found it.
You can make the world a little better than you found it by writing a poem, writing a song, spending a little extra time with your children or grandchildren and creating good memories. You can write your memoirs or special letters to your family. You can spend more time with your friends. You can create something with your own hands and give it to someone you love.
You can take a photograph of your favorite places. You can build a fence, make a garden, grow houseplants, make a video; do anything you can to leave something behind that wasn’t here before you were – and most likely no matter how small a thing you leave behind, as long as it is a good thing, it will make the world a better place that it was before you.
Leave something behind for others to remember you by. You will always exist as long as you exist in the memories of others. And perhaps someday a child will think of something you taught them – maybe it’s something that will make the world a little better place. Whether its a poem written on a tiny scrap of paper or teaching a child something to fly a kite; marvel at the stars; or bake Christmas cookies; you can leave a part of you behind and perhaps your child will make the world a better place.
Winter starts with a single flake of snow and each tomorrow begins right now. Your experiences can be brief and beautiful like that first snowflake that falls silently through the sky and disappears as it touches the ground – or it can be more subtle and endearing like the first flower of spring being reborn from the dead and frozen soil. Each experience is a chance to learn and each one is what you make it.
Beginnings give meaning to endings; yesterday gives meaning to tomorrow. The rain gives meaning to the sun; dark gives meaning to the light; sorrow gives meaning to joy. Everything begins and everything ends and we don’t have to understand it to know that everything is just as it must be.
We are all just as much a part of the Grand Design as a single flake of snow, the brightest star, the most distant nebula or the most splendid autumn day.
With a single flake of snow, winter begins. The future begins and the past ends with this moment. All is as it is supposed to be, whether we know it or not.