A Single Flake of Snow
With a single flake of snow, winter begins. Like that first faint shadow of twilight, we hardly take notice of it. It’s just another season in a lifetime of seasons; it’s just another snowflake in a long cycle of winters.
The autumn leaves, glorious and resplendent, catch our attention as we hurry through our lives… but that first flake of snow is a sentry of winter and we like to pretend it is not there so we let it go. We ignore it. 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.
It’s nearing the end of October and today a single flake of snow catches my eye. It is a dull, gloomy, and lifeless autumn afternoon. The air is chilly, but not cold and the sky is spackled with gray but not the dark umbrella gray of winter. My eyes follow the snowflake as it falls softly to the ground. And my mind drifts back to another time – when the world was a much smaller and 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 Southern shore of Lake Erie. It is snowing lightly and watching it fall makes me happy and excited. 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 I thought those kinds of feelings and that kind of innocence would last forever. But life had other plans.
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 boiling on the stove. It smells delicious. Everything mom cooked for us always smelled wonderful and tasted even better.
My father isn’t home from work yet.
The windows of the house are steamy and it is warm and cozy inside. I feel the 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, and no classes. And it is snowing outside – life doesn’t get any better than this.
It’s ten days before Christmas and I can hardly wait.
More decades have passed than I care to admit since I was that little 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 still hear the happy sounds of that day and friends saying: “See you next year” as the bus chugged away into a late-autumn gloom. I can see those scenes and hear the voices of children as if it happened yesterday.
I yearn to go back but I can’t. I want to cry, but I can’t.
The days of our lives that live in the past can exist only in our memories. Our memory is all that keeps those precious times alive. As long as we think of them, they still exist. Every “today” will be a tiny fragment of a “tomorrow” and soon-to-be yesterday.
Our past exists only as long as we can 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 “October” – winter begins with a single flake of snow. Winter begins whenever it wishes – our calendars mean nothing to winter or any of the other seasons. Winter begins whenever it begins.
It begins today with a single flake of snow.
Life begins when it will and death comes when it will. Calendars and watches do not dictate Nature’s path – they are inventions of humanity to help us keep track of our complicated lives.
Time is relative and it can play tricks on us. 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 and they stretch to the edge of 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. No matter what we think or say or do, time passes as it will, at its own pace, without concern or care for our insignificant displeasure with it. Time moves on as it will without regard for our computers, clocks, or calendars. Nature does not care what time it is. In the Grand Design, time itself has no meaning. And it does not matter.
When death comes to still us we should remember that we will be dead far longer than we were alive. Our lifetime but a tiny flicker of a feeble flame that instantly disappears in the cosmic wind of eternity.
Winter starts with a single snowflake and ends with a tiny crocus working its way up through rock-hard, frozen soil. Winter begins and ends when it will and spring will come when it pleases 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 somewhere whether I am there to see it or not.
Life begins and ends and we can only watch in wonder as life is given and with sorrow as life is taken away. Doctors meddle with life’s physicalities, extending the quantity, perhaps the quality of it for a bit longer perhaps than it would have lasted had not our modern medical miracles been applied. 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 an endless ocean of eternity.
The lifetime of a star is measured in billions of years – we are lucky to live eighty. The universe is billions of years old – yet in our insignificance, we strut about proudly as if our lives on this earth, in this solar system, in this galaxy, in this universe- have some great meaning, some measure of importance.
We are all just a tiny speck of light – an infinitely brief and insignificant flicker – that quickly bursts upon the landscape of forever and fades without notice into the endless and incomprehensible fabric of the cosmos.
In our insignificance though, we are as significant and as glorious as even the biggest and brightest stars. Our lives can be as beautiful as the most exquisite crab nebula. We have as much right to be here as the grandest spiral galaxy – or a single spring dandelion. We all are important. We are all part of something greater, something more meaningful yet so utterly incomprehensible.
If we look we will find that the stars, galaxies, trees, and tulips and that tiny yellow 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.
We are all stardust. We are all star stuff.
Winter begins with a single snowflake – and ends with the first tiny miracles of spring. Beginnings and endings – a continuous and glorious cycle we cannot comprehend or control. This too shall pass – everything we can see, feel and hear is evanescent and that is the essence and the beauty of everything. The things we can’t see or hear or feel are the important things for they are things of faith.
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 – 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 or even what time it is.
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 knowing that none of us will ever 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. I would not want to know the day of my death.
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 it’s 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, the dark gives meaning to the light, and 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. Keep your faith always, be of good cheer, and find peace in knowing that what we can never know is far more important than anything we can know.
Life begins and life ends. Summer begins and summer ends. The clock keeps ticking away meaningless minutes.
Winter begins with a single flake of snow, whether the calendar agrees or not.