“You’re home early,” Michael Rosenthal called out as he turned off the engine of his Toro snow-blower a week ago last Sunday.
Mitty smiled. “You know me too well, Michael. Low attendance usually does get me down for awhile, but actually I’m feeling pretty good. For me snow storms always bring back good memories form growing up.”
“What could be good about a snowstorm?”
Mitty laughed as he retrieved his shovel from the porch of his house. “When I was a kid back in Manitowoc, we would all tune the radio to WOMT on mornings when it was snowing hard, and we’d pray that school would be called off. If school was cancelled, I’d get my parka and boot on and Herman and I would join my dad who was already outside trying to make a dent in the snow drifts blockading the car in the garage.
“The whole neighborhood would be out shoveling, and the men would holler out things like ‘hey, Gordy, this enough snow for ya” and our neighbor across the street would shout back “you betcha, let’s figure out a way to sell the stuff.’ It was kind of like a quilting bee or what I think a barn raising must be like. And then we’d come inside with our cheeks red and our noses running and mom would have hot chocolate all ready for us. We’d eat three bowls of chili and home-made biscuits for lunch and then have the whole afternoon to build snow forts in the five foot high banks of snow between the sidewalk and the street.”
“You have a lot better memories of snow storms than I do,” said Michael. “What I remember is the city of Chicago not plowing the streets and neighbors fighting over parking spaces and everybody being irritable because mother nature was messing up their schedule.”
“But that’s what I mean, Michael. I like feeling the power nature has to derail my plans. I like remembering I’m just a small dot in this enormous universe. You know what I mean, like the first time you stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and what you feel is awe and reverence. And I guess what I got from the way my mom and dad treated me is that God will somehow take care of me even though I am so vulnerable.”
Michael thought about what his neighbor had said for a moment, shrugged and started up his snow-blower. Mitty began to work on his porch, got three steps cleared and heard the snow-blower’s engine stop again.
“What you said about liking snow storms got me thinking about the discussion we had at temple yesterday,” Michael explained as he walked toward Mitty who was by now leaning on his shovel. “It was after the service yesterday. We were munching on bagels”you know the good ones from that place in Skokie, the ones with onion-anyway, we were talking and Rachel raises the question about the tsunami victims. One hundred and fifty thousand of them! ‘That’s twenty-five times as many as died in the holocaust,’ she said. “Where was God for all of those innocent people?’ she said. I thought of that Walt, after you said how good the power of nature made you feel.”
Mitty knew that his neighbor was not picking a fight. He, himself and Dominique and Sharissa had asked the same question in one way or another as they were leaving church just half an hour ago. Pastor Walt remained silent, sensing that Michael had more to say.
“…See, in Poplar Park nobody got killed or even hurt, as far as I know, by the snow storm Friday. Inconvenienced. That’s all. I can sort of understand how a snow storm can make you feel warm inside. But a hundred and fifty thousand people, Walt. How do you even begin making sense….?”
Michael didn’t finish his sentence. He just threw up his hands. And the two men stood quiet for a long time, knowing that neither of them had the answer to Michael’s question.
After an hour and a half of shoveling, Pastor Walt waved at Michael who was clearing another neighbor’s sidewalk, climbed the stairs of his front porch, felt the warm air of his house greet him as he opened the door, took off his coat and headed towards the bathroom realizing that nature was calling him quite loudly.
What he saw as he flipped the light switch on the wall just to the right of the medicine cabinet made him step back and forget all about using the toilet. There in the sink was a big brown spider. Its body was at least three-quarters of an inch long, and the sight of it gave Mitty the same feeling as he felt when a horror movie would surprise him in a scary scene. It was not that he was an arachnaphobe, but this was a very big spider and it was crawling right toward him.
But the spider only made it about a third of the way up the white porcelain and then it slid back down toward the drain. Again and again the spider tried to climb the slippery slope, and each time it was powerless to gain its freedom. Realizing that the spider was trapped, Mitty felt his fright change to fascination. After he had used the toilet, he stood three feet away from the sink and watched the helpless spider pondering what to do.
He knew he couldn’t let the situation remain the same. That would be cruel. He either had to liberate the spider or end its struggle by squashing it. As he mulled over his options, Mitty thought about the snow storm and the tsunami. He remembered talking about feeling cared for and about Michel’s question.
As he deliberated, Mitty found himself identifying more and more with the spider. He thought, “I can’t explain to the spider why God let it get into such a predicament, but I do have the ability to help it get out.” He then tore off a four square length of toilet paper from the roll, draped it over the edge of the sink in such a way as to allow the spider to get traction, turned off the light and walked into the kitchen to make some lunch.