It was going very well till late January. People were saying that we have had such a mild winter that it almost seemed that winter just bypassed us. Remember Christmas. It was so warm all you needed when you went out was a light jacket. It was even warmer than the fall! But then came Act II! The turnaround was dramatic. Jonas, as the blizzard was named, came over our area and decided to take a rest right over our city. I remember blizzards of the past that had an intense period of a few hours but then became just a snowfall. The winds died down. But not Jonas. The winds kept blowing for better than a full day leaving one of the largest accumulations of snow ever. (In fact, at JFK, it was the greatest amount recorded—some 30 inches!)
When the winds died down and the snow stopped falling, we were treated to a sculptured effect with drifts reaching skyward and areas that were still relatively snowless. The beauty of a snowfall needs to be captured almost immediately in a city like ours. Soon the work began of restoring the life of the city to normalcy. I know that there are valid criticisms of how our city digs itself out, but, it was amazing how quickly and effectively life went on very soon afterwards.
I remember taking a winter holiday one year in London. A priest friend of mine and I got free accommodations for a week in that great city. But while we were there, they had a snowfall. By our standards it was not great. Maybe 3 or 4 inches. But, they don’t get snow very often. So the city sort of closed down. We laughed over the precautions taken and the disruptions assumed by such a small snowstorm. But that was so rare that they did not have the equipment and the knowhow of dealing effectively with it.
I was just thinking about that week as New York got to work so quickly and effectively one Jonas moved on. As much as we can criticize the response to the blizzard, we have to admit the city reacted in an exemplary way. We generally do not appreciate how good we have it here in our city. Our Police force and our Firefighters are second to none. In fact, they are often sought out when a disaster happens in another part of our country or even of our world. Our sanitation crews went to work almost immediately providing coordinated and effective clearance of this epic snowfall.
The reason why I write about the blizzard is that, like anything else in life, it can tell us something about God. There are times when God tests us with something that comes from nowhere. Our resolve and our commitment to be of help to others are severely tested in this crucible of difficulty, but it calls for from us deep reservoirs of effective action and a strengthening of the virtues in our life (like perseverance, courage, generosity). Times of extremity are ways that God has of testing whether what we say so blithely in prayer (“thy will be done”) is really meant.
In C.S. Lewis masterful work “The Screwtape Letters”, he constructs his book around a series of letters between two devils: one is the elder Screwtape and the other is his nephew Wormwood. It is not only a funny and entertaining exchange but Lewis manages to include a lot of spiritual doctrine. At one point the younger apprentice Wormwood (who is trying to destroy the possibility of salvation in a man he is assigned to) remarks to his uncle how happy he is that a War has broken out on earth. He thinks in the resulting confusion he might have an advantage in his assignment. Screwtape disabuses him of this mistaken idea. While the war is a victory of hell’s side, often people in wartime exhibit an enormous amount of unselfishness and courage that is poison to the infernal forces.
So while a blizzard is basically a bad nuisance, it can be the occasion of a manifestation of great generosityand unselfishness. God is truly great in all things, including His tests He sends us!