A spark of grace
Outside, the first snow of the season came down on Boston in a thick, even fall. It had come suddenly, noiselessly; and though the flakes were falling with considerable force, they landed on the cityscape so softly, and so gently, that one would have had to listen very very carefully to hear them touch the earth and blend with their brothers.Skip to next paragraph
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Inside, the music on the tape player ended, and Dave and I were left mulling beside a dying fire. As recent college graduates, we still felt the need to solve The Problems of the World at least once a week. Usually we found ourselves breaking new ground -- sharing some new insight, some new vision, some new reason to be hopeful:
''Yes, if nothing else, the numbers themselves will cause the White House to lower the defense budget.''
''I know the home is an endangered species, but maybe these new neighborhood care-groups will help to bring families together.''
''Well, what happened in Poland this week...?''
Tonight though, some vital spark was missing. Despite a real effort, our discussion was no more animated than our lukecold fire. We tried rolling the log of social possibilities over onto the kindling of the evening news. But nothing happened. No inspiration. After so many discussions, it seemed as if we already knew every edge and hollow of our combined paradigms. Struggle as we might, there seemed to be no place left to go -- no unexplored territory.
Indeed, something was missing. In the past, if nothing else, we had always been satisfied with a graceful verbal detour from any conversational road-blocks. But what was missing tonight went beyond the conversational. A certain spirit was missing; and its absence made us restless. Dave started pacing the floor. Without a direction, without a fresh feeling of hope, the little room seemed hotter, smaller, and smokier by the moment. The problems became uglier. Peace on earth seemed a naive hope.
''I feel a walk coming on,'' Dave said, subtle as a doorslam. I wasn't about to disagree, so we put on coats and scarves and headed downstairs for ''The Fens ,'' Boston's city park.
Once outside, the change from stuffy to frosty air caught us both off guard. So did the scene. The city street, snow-filled now, was a new and different place. The snow was transforming our world. It lay thickly on every slanting angle, every exposed surface of every shape in sight. All things -- from townhouses to trees, to hedges, sidewalks, and roadway -- were connected by a common white sheen.
But not only had the snow bonded the environment together; it had also formed and bonded a link between people. On a street, usually sterile, where people move quickly and rarely look at one another -- let alone chance a few words -- there was an atmosphere of revelry. Folks were out frolicking and laughing in the snow. Two young men -- students -- swept up to us, sliding on the ice, and exclaimed in a rousing chorus, '' 'Tis a beautiful eve!'' We felt edified on the spot. The snow, it seemed, had become a visible excuse, a free currency, for goodwill toward men.
By the time we got to the park a soft, steady breeze had picked up, and it had brushed the snow onto the oaks and elms, the kiosks, and the monuments from a singular direction. In ths way, the essential character of these forms stood out in relief. Walking through the park, we found that everyday objects took on magical shapes when filled-out by the snow: The ribs of a common trash can became a study in cylindrical motion. A series of randomly spaced park benches, now with only a few dark horizontal streaks visible against vast whiteness, were made over into classic examples of the power inherent in austere and simple lines.