In many ways, my life... well, it sucks. I’m fortunate in that I’m an optimist at heart. I tend to look on the bright side; partly by nature, partly by choice. One thing I don’t look for is a theist god. If I did, I would probably melt into a puddle of despair, kind of like porridge, but not as tasty.
That’s what I was reflecting on as I shoveled my way through 21” of snow this morning. The snow was piled high against the house. I had to shoulder the storm door open just to get to my front steps.
The sky was dark. The forecast calls for clearing skies, but I haven’t seen any evidence to support that theory. I was just glad that the snow had stopped at last.
If someone else was out there, shoveling upwards of 50 cubic feet of wet, heavy snow from my walk, I would be busy inside. I would be heating up hot cocoa on the stove. Going to the door frequently to see that the person out there was okay, that s/he didn’t need a break, wasn’t having trouble breathing, didn’t need someone to take over the shoveling for a while. And when that person came in, I would have a warm blanket and the hot cocoa (or coffee, or soup, or whatever else s/he liked) ready and waiting. To me, it’s a basic expression of concern for the well-being of another individual, and gratitude for work done.
Last night, my car was stuck in the blizzard. I was dressed for a wedding, and stuck, freezing, for two hours with no heat. A friend came out and got my car started. I was thankful, and I paid him $20, all I could afford, for his kindness. He was very grateful. There was about 8” of snow on the walk when I finally got home. No one had shoveled. I had to pick gingerly through the snow in my three-inch heels, clutching my coat to my body. I slept like the dead till morning, when I came out to shovel. The amount of snow on the ground had nearly tripled.
I’m not a tall person or a particularly strong person, but I shoveled the whole walk, the steps, cleared off the mailbox, dug out access to the street. It took a long time, and it was cold. I don’t have a pair of boots at the moment, so the whole experience was kind of miserable. And there wasn’t a cup of hot cocoa waiting for me. I didn’t have the energy to make it myself by that point, so I wrapped myself up in a warm, dry shirt and huddled up, alone, on my bed. There wasn’t even any coffee for me, although I’d made a pot. Someone else had drunk it all.
Two other adults are in the house. One of them said “thank you” when I got back in. The other asked in passing if I was okay when I came in to use my asthma inhaler. Both these people are bigger than I am, and at least one is much stronger. But they’re not the same kind of person that I am. I think they were raised with a certain sense of entitlement. Maybe they should have done some of the work, or cared enough to do something nice for me. But they didn’t, and I was too exhausted to ask. Besides, I’m not their responsibility. Not really.
You see, I’m alone. I have a daughter, but she has rather severe special needs, and communication with her is often difficult. There’s no one to snuggle with at night, no one to wake up with in the morning. Life isn’t easy. I wish it were.
But I’m a good, kind person. I am thoughtful and considerate. I choose to be that kind of person. It has nothing to do with a “higher power” or ten commandments or any of that nonsense. It has to do with concern for my fellow human beings. Nobody’s going to fall down and hurt themselves on my front walk. No one will have to climb through mounds of snow, as I had to. Anyone who comes to my home will be safe and can enter without difficulty. And if I know they’re coming, there will be a warm drink waiting for them.
If I believed in a theist god—that is, one who creates the universe, listens for my prayers, intercedes on my behalf, and judges my actions—I’d be a basket case. I do my best, 24-7, to be the most loving, rational, responsible and respectful person I can be. I try not to judge, not to be hurtful, to afford every individual I meet with the same courtesy and dignity I would like for myself. But virtue is its own reward. There’s no heavenly choir waiting for me. And there’s certainly nobody waiting with a cup of hot chocolate. If a god existed and gave a $%*& about me, then I wouldn’t be cold and wet and miserable, shoveling snow for other people’s comfort and safety, with no reward.
Fortunately, I’m an atheist. And because of that, I don’t expect hot cocoa. I expect practically nothing from my fellow human beings. And yet, more often than not, I’m pleasantly surprised. Maybe I didn’t get a nice surprise today, but so what? My life sucks, yes—but it could be so much worse. And at least I have the comfort of knowing that every day, in some way, I’ve tried to make someone else’s life better. There isn’t an afterlife, that I know of. So I do my level best to make this life better. It’s all I can do. And it feels good to know that I’ve done it.
I’ve warmed up now. The walk is clean. I may be able to take my daughter out sledding later, and that will be wonderful. But that’s in the future, and I have something that I need to attend to now, now that I’ve warmed up and I’m feeling better.
I need to go into the kitchen and make some hot cocoa.
Wish you could join me. This is going to be a beautiful day.
Amy Frushour Kelly