When I hear the quote from Greek philosopher Epictetus, “it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it that matters,” I admit that the words are sometimes a bitter pill to swallow when my frustration is beginning to swirl.
However, over time, I have discovered the wisdom of those words when I have seen the contrast in my own feelings over a recurring situation, and how those feelings can change depending on any number of contextual factors.
The first snowfall of the season is an excellent example.
As a young boy, that first snowfall was consistently met with joy and excitement as it meant a switch in the games we played outside at recess.
Running after snowflakes and catching them on our tongues to see who could catch the biggest was a favourite (clearly, it didn’t take much to amuse us). Piles of snow would become the focal point of a game of “king or queen of the castle”. And of course we would blow off steam with the occasional snowball fight, just for the fun of it.
The first snowfall also meant that the Christmas season was just around the corner along with festive get-togethers, special once-per-year delicacies and let’s not forget, a visit from Santa Claus.
My parents were avid downhill skiers. It was no surprise that at around age five, they strapped skis to my feet and taught me how it’s done. I enjoyed it… to a point. Despite being comfortably dressed for the weather conditions and getting pretty good at the sport, in the years that followed I was becoming increasingly aware that I wasn’t passionate about it.
In my middle school and high school years, the first snowfall meant dollar signs in my eyes. Through the winter months, I remember shoveling our suburban laneway and collecting one dollar for a light snowfall, while a heavier accumulation would earn me two dollars. When the shoveling was done, I discovered the joy of cocooning with a hot chocolate and a good book.
The university years were awfully busy, between attending classes, working part-time and enjoying time with friends. That being the case, through those years, I can’t say I had much to do with the outdoors aside from waiting for buses on my trips to school and work. Skiing was a distant memory and I wasn’t into any other winter sports. At that time, my opinion about winter was starting to go downhill.
In my career years, commuting in winter grew to become my nemesis. I felt enormous, self-inflicted pressure to always show up on time despite my lack of control over weather patterns, the transit system and clogged arterial roadways.
When the forecast called for a major dumping of snow overnight that I knew would create chaos for the morning commute, I would set my alarm earlier, only to find out that others had the same idea.
The first snowfall also triggered renewed incomprehension as to why some bus operators would drive while wearing no jacket. With the front door opening and closing throughout their run, they’d get cold (what a surprise!). They would then, understandably, crank up the heat.
However, picture if you will, a busload of passengers, dressed in heavy coats and winter gear, prepared for the elements while they were outside waiting for the bus. With the bus temperature reaching tropical heights, passengers would be doing the winter wardrobe strip tease, shedding their puffy coats and parkas to avoid melting like butter in the microwave.
Between the stress of making it to work on time and perspiring profusely (then freezing again when stepping outside on the walk from the bus stop to the office), I was not a happy camper in inclement weather.
When my office relocated to an area where bus commuting no longer made sense given the poor timing of my connecting buses, I decided to start driving to work. After 35 years of busing, I felt I had done my part for the environment and could indulge myself in a little privilege for the last years of my career.
However, commuting in winter weather is no picnic. My “little privilege” turned to profanity.
I think it would be fair to say that most drivers are reasonable and will adjust their driving for bad weather conditions. But I believe that it is the drivers at the two opposite extremes who may be the catalysts for potential accidents and resulting bottlenecks.
At one end, you have the speed demons who drive their heavy trucks and 4X4s like it is their cloak of invincibility, making every other driver feel like they are in their way.
At the opposite end, you have the timid commuters driving at a speed considerably lower than the overall flow of traffic, out of an overabundance of caution.
While I cannot say I have personally conducted any scientific studies on winter driving, anecdotally, I believe the presence of the two extremes increases the risk level than if everyone just followed a level-headed common-sense flow of traffic, appropriate for the weather conditions.
That frustration seemed to have a compounding effect with every year I commuted. Weather forecasts for light snow made me cringe as much as the prediction of heavy snowfall accumulations triggered significant anticipatory stress.
On days when a snowfall reached record-breaking heights, when you added the fear of the car getting irretrievably stuck in the snow and the potential pain from backaches (or even risk of heart attack) when shoveling, I struggled to find the bright side, no matter how snow may be a key ingredient to every happy ending of a Hallmark holiday movie.
I agree, that’s a lot of baggage to carry during the first innocent little snowfall.
But now, in retirement, it’s a different story.
The first snowfall means that the exterior maintenance of our rural property is pretty much over for the season. The cat’s requests for supervised walks get fewer in number and become shorter in duration. And if I planned well, our pantry and freezer would be appropriately stocked up, eliminating the need to run urgent errands on rural roads when the weather outside turns frightful.
For me, the first snowfall means fewer distractions and more time to follow my calling and my passion: my writing projects. When that happens, I feel pure joy!
Isn’t it interesting that the first snowfalls that used to trigger such strong feelings of stress and frustration are being replaced by joy and a sense of freedom to fully throw myself into my life’s work?
I guess that given current circumstances, I am back to liking the first snowfall after all!
That being the case, Epictetus was right, it’s really is how you react to things.
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One response to “The First Snowfall of the Season”
I chuckled with fond memories reading your post, thank you. As a child, we would make tunnels in the snow with much gratitude for the snowplow person positioning the snow just right. Before the ability of working from home, I feared the snow driving to and from work (I was the cautious driver). And nearing retirement with work from home ability, I embrace and appreciate the beautiful gift of snow.