The weather has held New Englanders in its thrall for weeks now, dominating conversations in real life as well as updates on Twitter and Facebook. Weather has become a persona, one that willfully went rogue and is keeping the whole neighborhood up with an endless rant and rave. Please, just go home and go to bed. Enough already.
Metaphors aside, an editorial appeared in the New York Times on February 20 by E. J. Graff that provides a sobering assessment of what has been happening over these last few weeks:
By now you’ve seen the starkly beautiful shots of Boston buried under snow: the panoramic city under a white blanket; snowbanks so high they crest over parked cars; piercing icicles glinting for two full stories from gutters dammed with ice; coat-muffled people dwarfed by snow-walled corridors that once were sidewalks…
But for those of us living here, it’s not a pretty picture. We are being devastated by a slow-motion natural disaster of historic proportions. The disaster is eerily quiet. There are no floating bodies or vistas of destroyed homes. But there’s no denying that this is a catastrophe.
In just three weeks, between Jan. 27 and Feb. 15, we have had four epic blizzards — seven feet of precipitation over three weeks — which crushed roofs, burst gutters, destroyed roads and sidewalks, closed schools and businesses, shut down highways, crippled public transit and trapped people in their homes. The infamous Blizzard of 1978 brought around 27 inches of snow and shut down the region for a week. In less than a month, we’ve seen more than three times as much snow. The temperature has hovered between 5 and 25 degrees, so the snow and ice haven’t melted.
Decades of underinvestment and alleged mismanagement of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, known as the T, have meant that the nation’s oldest subway system has been partly or entirely halted for nearly a month…
Sure, it’s not the same as an earthquake: The snow will melt, eventually. But that will bring more woes. The flooding will hurt the T, ruin roofs and basements and clog roads still more.
That happens often in life: Events we cannot predict or manage. An understory that isn’t obvious. Long term implications that we cannot comprehend clearly. Decisions made with inaccurate data sets that have long term ramifications far beyond what is expected.
Jonathan Franzen begins his novel Freedom with the random access concerns of the story’s protagonist Patty. She is worried about cloth vs disposable diapers, how to find a reliable roofer, when to ground coffee beans, whether it is best to give a panhandler money, and if there really a high lead content in Fiestaware, inter alia. In the novel Franzen explores the many ways decisions are made and their unexpected consequences. He also makes the case that is complicated and difficult to be a thoughtful, careful, cautious, “do no harm” citizen of the planet. Franzen does not preach or offer answers. He is, like us, not sure how to do life right. Achieving moral intelligence is an ongoing project for all of us.
Staying present with the circumstances of life is exhausting right now. So it was a welcomed stepping away to spend four hours engrossed in Edgar Reitz‘s astounding Die Andere Heimat (Home From Home), a prequel to his extraordinary Heimat series—a 32 episode masterpiece that offers a portrait of Germany as seen through the lineage of a family in the Rhineland.
In Home From Home, Reitz brings us up close and personal with a small village in the Hunsrück region in the 1840s. Family relations, poverty, work, dreams, aspirations—and yes weather—all play out in this absorbing exploration of the large frame idea of Home. Fighting droughts, bad crops, devastating epidemics and oppressive overlords, each character must make a decision to stay or leave, and many of the villagers will emigrate for a better life in Brazil. Of course the trajectory in a life completely shifts as a result of that one choice, whether made by volition or default.
It is a rare individual who can see choices in their full context. Like Franzen’s Patty and the villagers in Home From Home, finding the best way forward is not obvious. Once again weather instructs, teaching us about acceptance, patience, surrender and living with what cannot be predicted. It is not easy, looking for answers. Approximations will have to do.