The ground is crunchy. And slippery. And just a little bit white. Small pockets of snow litter what would otherwise be a carpet of dead, brown grass, and stationary vehicles repose under their icy shells, evoking thoughts of Krispy Kreme’s glazed donuts. Except those would be hot, and we’re cold.
Just twenty-four hours ago, the skies were open, and the air was flurry-filled. Quickly a thin layer of honest snow covered the ice-pellet crust that had been thickening all morning, and our Snow Day had arrived. Now, we are into our second day of closed roads, businesses, schools, and churches, and a third has been promised. It is…the Snowpocalypse.
At least in the South, where I now live. Where I grew up, we’d have been disappointed by such a paltry helping of winter’s elements. Here, it’s a holiday! (Also known as a “state of emergency.”)
I don’t mean to make fun. I really don’t. There are too many people having a tough time right now, and my electricity is still on. I am extremely thankful for the beauty, the brief sabbatical, and the blessings of a furnace that works. My heart goes out to those who were frozen, frustrated, and frightened in the traffic nightmares, like Birmingham experienced last night. I’ve prayed for them. It’s not funny at all.
But it is instructive.
Rain, Rain, go away…
See, I’ve held a theory for some time, and now seems as good a time as any to dust it off and try it out. I began developing it when I lived in Pensacola, FL, and it has only been confirmed since moving to Alabama. I get a chance to test it every time it rains, and when it snows, it takes me months to work through all the evidence!
I first noticed it in one day when it rained during rush hour. Traffic almost instantly slowed from a crawl to a creep. I expected to come upon a wrecked vehicle or lane closure, but as I kept driving I saw nothing that explained our slower-than-usual pace. Nothing but the rain could explain it.
Strange! That rain should slow traffic. I had never noticed this phenomenon before. I had grown up and learned to drive in the northern suburbs of Detroit, where we had our own share of treacherous driving conditions, but that almost always happened when the rain froze. And it was not freezing in Pensacola. It was only raining.
Sure, I had heard driving instructors warn about the dangers of rain. I had read driving manuals that advised slowing for rain. But I couldn’t remember ever seeing someone do it. Oh, I don’t mean deluges that reduced visibility to a few yards and turned small puddles into ponds. That’s common sense. But I had always assumed that your average rain was no big deal. That’s what windshield wipers are for. And the tread on your tires.
Well, I couldn’t be sure if what I had witnessed was a coincidence or not, so I started watching. Was this a fluke or a pattern? Over time and distance, I determined that rain, more often than not, produces slower driving. The reason was obvious – due care and caution. But why should rain do this in the South and not in the North? Or to be more specific, why should more extreme forms of falling water not produce the same levels of apparent caution in the North as they did in the South? I mean, Northerners can drive slow and carefully, but they tend to do it when the rain turns to ice. And that’s where my theory started to take shape.
Here’s the theory: all drivers everywhere drive with the same levels of caution in their own most extreme driving conditions. In general, for Northerners, this means ice; for Southerners, rain. And that explains why Southerners drive in rain like Northerners drive in ice. (It’s just a theory, OK?)
So what would Southerners do if it ever snowed?
Now we know! The answer is somewhere between “freak out” and “batten down the hatches.” And when it comes to driving in snow, well, in my limited experience, Southerners either just don’t do it, or they don’t do it well.
Does this make Northerners superior? Not in the least. For two reasons:
When you only get a chance to do something once every couple of years, you’re not going to be very good at it. The simple fact is that people in Detroit, for instance, have to do it for several months every year. And a lot of them would rather not!
Then there are those of us who have been transplanted South. Some of us for more than a few years. Yes, even yours truly got his van stuck over Christmas while visiting in Michigan. And I could tell you more than a few stories from the teen years when I was gaining valuable icy-road driving experience. I don’t think any Northerners are born good winter drivers. (Except the Finns. They might be.)
The point is that when it snows in Alabama, some drivers wisely acknowledge their inexperience and stay home, while others show the rest of the country why they should have. And wise Northerners living in the South won’t run the risk of being out there with them.
But there’s another reason that’s probably more relevant.
Southerners salt their food; Northerners salt their sidewalks. In the North, every snowfall or hint of ice calls forth entire battalions of bright orange dump trucks spreading salt on public streets to melt the ice. Privateers attach hoppers to their pickup trucks and do the same thing to parking lots and driveways. And every truck carries a plow on the front to shove and scrape all the snow and ice to the side of the road or into a great mound in the middle of the parking lot. (You’ve never played King of the Mountain until you’ve played it on a 15’ high pile of snow!) Government infrastructure and a free market economy is organized to make sure people can drive safely when the temperatures plunge well below freezing and the snow makes everything look like the inside of a Twinkie.
In the South, there is nothing like this. That’s why Birmingham, Alabama, had dozens (hundreds?) of stranded motorists in mere inches of snow. Just how well would most Northerners drive on unmelted, unplowed snow and ice? About as well as any Southerner, probably.
None of this is new and shouldn’t surprise anyone. I’m not sitting here at home thinking how pathetic my Southern neighbors are. They’re not. Many of them are quite wise, and for all the Northerners who can’t wait to move South, I don’t know of any Southerners who are just aching to move North. And though I have had to reschedule three days of work, music lessons, and Honk! Jr. rehearsals, I’m just thankful for the ability to work from home and stay warm while doing it. And I’ve learned something in the process.
And now, the point…
I’ve learned the value of experience and equipment when it comes to facing new challenges. There have been many times I’ve watched people do things I could never do, and I’ve been tempted to feel inferior. Or worse, to imitate them. This would be equivalent to a Southerner feeling inferior to a Northerner (not likely), or attempting to drive on ice just to prove he’s not (more likely). In reality, sometimes the only explanation for the differences between people is experience and equipment. And neither of these are enough to support the pride we try to hang on them.
I think Dale Carnegie said one time that if you had experienced the exact same things as someone else, you would probably think the exact same things that they do. That’s not to say that we are entirely the product of our environments, but it is to recognize that there are many things we enjoy in life for which we can take no credit.
Likewise, our equipment. We are born with different abilities, passions, interests, and tastes. Our experience can affect these a little bit, but most of the time they are as inviolate as the color of our eyes. Things as simple as our height and the amount of melanin in our skin can determine who respects us and who doesn’t and which doors are open to us. (What a blessed day when I realized I didn’t have to like playing basketball!)
In the body of Christ, the church, this is all the more important when we realize that God intends for all of us to be different and serve him uniquely. I have experience I can share with you, and you have experience I need to help me learn. I can do things you can’t, and you can do things I can’t. So, we need each other, and we need what God has placed in each of our hearts to help one another walk more closely with him.
And when God places a challenge in front of us, it is meant for us to handle with his help and the help of his people. Just because another person seems to handle the situation with ease doesn’t mean that we are less of a Christian if we struggle. No doubt there are trials we have faced that would make another Christian tremble. Jesus died for all of God’s children, and he is in the process of making us all into his image. That process will look different for each of us, and there is no set series of steps for us to take. Instead, we are to stand on the grace he’s given us, lean on the grace he’s given others, and step forward into the grace he continually makes available through Christ. God is always ready to give us more than we can handle on our own, so we’ll learn to rely on him.
For a Southerner, that may mean a snow storm every half-decade or so.
For a Northerner, well, we’re all curious to know how he would handle a hurricane!