Like the calm feeling of a blanket being laid on your half sleeping body, the first snow comes with the tranquility of a long exhale.
It seldom has the uneasiness of a thunderstorm or tornado. Its precipitation does not pang or drop or flutter or twist, it simply falls. It spins. It lies.
The first snow has the serene release of fall, of leaves coming to the ground, but it is quiet. What’s left of it does not crack or rustle or crunch under our feet, it just molds to our steps.
For winters of an unknown amount of time, snow has unveiled the tracks of wild game while it has destroyed whatever is left of the crop. Today, snow is a friend to grade schoolers who need a day off and a pain for commuters who don’t need any more traffic.
But still, whether eight or 58 years old, that first snow brings a calm to us – a recognition of winter in a way that is tangible. The white layers of the pine trees give us memories of families and holidays or hardships and broken hearts. While snow quiets the world outside it brings noise to the indoors, forcing us together around a crackling fire or the sounds of wintry music.
A single snowflake weighs about .002 grams, while the average drop of water weighs about .0417 grams. In other words, one single drop of water can explode into 20 snowflakes, all perfectly unique and yet perfectly symmetrical.
If falling at an average of five feet per second, each snowflake takes an approximate 33-minute journey from the clouds to earth. 33 minutes of rising and falling against the winds, spinning through the air, only to land on the tongue of a toddler or in the hair of an old woman or on the windshield of a police cruiser or in the coffee mug of a construction worker or on the eyelash of a white tailed deer guiding her young through the blistering cold reality of winter in the woods.
Snow, found everywhere from here to Mars, has been called graupel or pellets, powdery and fluffy, granular and sleet, wonderful and horrible. The legend of snow has grown since the days it reflected off the eyes of great elk and wild moose.
Some believe it to be pieces of the clouds falling when the angels dance with God. The ancient Shinto people fear the yuki-onna, or snow women, who are whispered about for their inhuman beauty, red-lipped and pale, luring women with a crying child and men with magnificence so ancient and flawless that it is simply irresistible.
It is on these days, during the first snow, when I imagine the yuki-onna waking me up with her warm arms wrapped around my waist. It is when this first snow falls that I both fear and wish for her red lips to find my neck, for her pale skin to lay across mine the way that first snow has layered the earth around me.
No longer is the winter coming. It is now here. The first snow turns dead trees alive, bringing contrast to the darkness that has surrounded us as fall disappeared for the shadows of winter. Now is our chance to embrace this first snow, to enjoy the padding of it’s wetness on our feet, to let the visions of our own breath remind us of who and what we are. It is this first snow that gives us an opportunity to marvel at the three million odd snowflakes it takes to make a snowman, to lay down in the broken clouds and spread our arms and legs out wide and wave them back and forth and pretend to be one of those angels dancing with God on the broken clouds and wonder, just for a moment, what that dance would be like.
For the ones who this will be my first winter without, and for those who I have lost and found again underneath the broken clouds.
I carry a lighter, not because I smoke but because I find that women who do are very attractive, and on the off chance that one ever needs a light I want to be prepared. In my mind, I have a fantasy about a beautiful woman, dark lipstick, long brown hair, heavy eyeliner, looking hopelessly around the Cathedral steps for someone to light her cigarette. I see her patting down her pockets, shuffling through her purse, only to look up and see me offering exactly what she needs without her asking. In her reaction I’ll see her recognition, recognition of our fate and my deliberate manner. Somehow, she’ll know I was meant to be there to offer her that lighter on that day and she won’t have a choice but to accept my offer for a drink sometime in the near future. She’ll never know that I had carried it patiently, sometimes anxiously, waiting for her perfect figure to meet my perfect timing. Like the universe we know, her and I will begin by a spark, a flame, a Big Bang, a moment; we too will be infinite.
“Light?” I’ll ask her passively, as if I wasn’t sure what she needed.
“Oh? Thanks,” she’ll say, with a confused gratitude. “How’d you –“
“It was probably the pack of cigarettes in your hand,” I’ll tell her with a wink.
“Ah…yes…Is your name Sherlock?” she’ll ask, like a smart ass.
“Isaac,” I’d say seriously, with my hand out.
I won’t hear her name.
What I will hear is the click of the lighter, the sound of two rocks rubbing together. She’ll take her first drag deep, with an off smile, not sure whether I’m going to stay and talk or walk away. She’ll look up again, blowing the smoke out of the corner of her mouth, and I’ll be struck – quieted, muted, caught – by her eyes.
“This might seem insane,” I’ll start. She’ll lean back with a teasing smile, as if she were suddenly scared to be near me. “But, I promised myself the next time I saw you I’d ask you out for a drink.”
“How many times have you seen me?” She’ll ask, with some kind of insecurity in her voice, taking another drag.
“Twice, before today,” I’d lie, knowing I had never seen her before. “I’m not asking for a date, just a drink, on me.”
“How about right now?” She’d ask. “I’ll go if you come with me right now.”
I’ll forget about class. About homework. About the project or that ex-girlfriend or my plan not to drink this week. I’ll practically chase her to the bar. We’ll walk in and she’ll order some beer I’ve never heard of, and I’ll fall for her; for her style, her edginess, how bold she is, how different she seems. I’ll pledge in my head to kill for the kind of beauty she has. I’ll promise myself that I won’t fall for that look in her eyes that she’s seen more than me, that she isn’t impressed yet but she’s curious, that maybe she’d be willing to give us asshole guys one more shot.
It won’t take a long time for us to consummate our chemistry in the bar in the bedroom. I’ll say that to her after, and she’ll tell me she hates the word “consummate.” I’ll love her for caring about language. I’ll lay next to her in bed and worry about the fact we slept together on the first date, and as if she can hear my thoughts she’ll say off-handedly, “that’s the first time I’ve ever taken a guy home on the first date.” I’ll believe her. She’ll look through me in a way that doesn’t make me feel as if I’m not there, but rather that she can see the way I function, that her eyes act like emotional X-ray machines, that I am somehow predictable.
We won’t talk for a while; we’ll just stare at each other. Our feet will tangle like unkempt hair, our ankles and knees and toes prodding and wrapping and curling. Our shoulders will come out from the top of the sheets, it will be cold, but we won’t move. We’ll just stare. Every few minutes a smile will crawl onto one of our faces, and then we’ll laugh, and then we’ll kiss, and then we’ll go back to staring again. I’ll push her bangs out of her eyes because I’ve seen guys do that in the movies before, and she’ll blush and look down.
After a while, her blinks will get longer, her eyes will slowly shut. I’ll take the time to stare at her make up and I’ll adore something about her eyelashes and eyebrows that just seem so feminine. Suddenly I’ll hear her take a deep breath, one of those long ones where I know she’s falling asleep. I’ll adjust my arms and body and inch a little closer and I’ll tuck my nose to the side of hers and I’ll let our lips brush against each other and I’ll take a deep breath too and then I’ll spend my first night with that girl who I had saved the lighter for and like a spark, like the Big Bang, I’ll be in love.
Inspired by Tim O'Brien's book The Things They Carried
My generation carries a burden.
We carry the expectations of parents and grandparents who fought for civil rights, survived World Wars and experienced loss like few others. We carry the judgment of peers who have instant access to our thoughts, appearance and values. Living in an overpopulated, over-talented and over-achieving world, we carry the pressures of competition. We carry the fallacy of our ancestors and predecessors, the repercussions of laws and judgments made in a time so distant and foreign to us that we study it through history and art.
We carry need. We carry need for attention, for love, for security, for our phones, for the hottest and freshest technology and clothing, for perfection, for Hollywood, but mostly for something unique.
We carry a condition, one that forces us to make moments into instant memories, to make moments present seem like moments distant. The same condition leaves us at the party, constantly checking our phones and our facebooks and looking for something better than what we have, always striving for a change but never shaping what actually sits in front of us.
I carry many things, but I cannot carry any of them outside the context of my generation.
I carry my wallet, needing my Pitt ID for discounts and libraries and my license for booze and driving, although I try not to combine the two. I also carry it because I need my money for all the things that money can buy. In that same wallet I carry a bucket list. It is a string of goals and fantasies that are meant to remind me each day is something to be clutched, held tight, and even choked – squeezing out every possible opportunity for growth, experiment and joy.
I carry my keys, knowing I will need them when I return home and to an empty apartment. Sometimes, I look at these keys and wonder what it would be like if they could open every door I wanted them too, or start every car that has ever been made. Where would I go? Would I tour the Oval Office uninvited or snoop through a loved one’s closet? Would I take to the sunset in a brand new Lamborghini or a 1987 Winnebago Le Sharo?
Until recently I carried a regular old cell phone, one that didn’t have the fancy technology or apps but just buttons and text messaging and calls. With it I carried some sense of individuality, knowing that I hadn’t swooned over Apple and might somehow spend less time staring into my lap. In a way, that phone symbolized something more than just being behind on technology; I was rough, poor, unconvinced, cynical. “When are you going to get a new phone?” my friends would ask. “When?”
Now, after society almost left me behind, I carry an iPhone – the world in a box. I carry the Internet, something that boggles even my 21st century mind. I carry over 600 contacts, friends and family and restaurants and employers. I carry a wealth of knowledge unprecedented in human history; knowledge so vast yet so shallow that it can come and go in the confines of a search bar.
I carry my music. I carry The Tallest Man on Earth, The Roots, Lemon Jelly, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Iron and Wine, Mos Def and Cake. I carry all their notes, their lyrics, their bass, their curse words, their love songs and their history. I carry them so they can inspire me. I carry them so they can break me down. I let their music accelerate my mood; I let The Tallest Man on Earth help me descend into depression, I let Cake elevate my happiness, I let The Roots bring power to my fists, I let Lemon Jelly guide me through a high. I hear them and act as they tell me to.
I carry a lighter, not because I smoke but because I find that women who do are very attractive, and on the off chance that one ever needs a light I want to be prepared. In my mind, I have a fantasy about a beautiful woman, dark lipstick, long brown hair, heavy eyeliner, looking hopelessly around the Cathedral steps for someone to light her cigarette. I see her patting down her pockets, shuffling through her purse, only to look up and see me offering exactly what she needs without her asking. In her reaction I’ll see her recognition, recognition of our fate and my deliberate manner. Somehow, she’ll know I was meant to be there to offer her that lighter on that day and she won’t have a choice but to accept my offer of a drink sometime in the near future. She’ll never know that I had carried it patiently, sometimes anxiously, waiting for her perfect figure to meet my perfect timing. Like the universe we know, her and I will begin by a spark, a flame, a Big Bang, a moment; we too will be infinite.
On my feet I carry the legacy of a friend in a pair of shoes. The bright orange, white and grey Nikes are just like him: abrasive in appearance and demeanor but impossible to ignore. The orange is his individualism, standing out amongst others. The grey is for his age, a number that always seemed too small for his maturity and intellect. The white is for where he is now, some ideal of nothingness, something angelic, and something distant – undiscoverable, like light itself. They were a final offering, one of our last interactions in this world before heroin took his life. Despite their fun look and young age, these shoes are neither comfortable nor average. Like his death, they slow me down. They may even be a size to big, the way Jack seemed to big for this world, the backs sliding up and down my achilles each time I take a step.
Around my neck I carry a Star of David, a symbol of my tradition and roots. It’s sterling silver clasps have never been undone since it found its way onto my body. In some ways, it represents the city of Tzfat, where I found it. Tzfat is Israel’s San Francisco. The people thrive on being unique, on locating their own path to happiness, love and God. All are accepted in Tzfat. But the Star of David is much greater than Tzfat. It is also a stand for my roots and my community. It is an open admission of my Judaism, my ties to Israel, my value for the Jewish family. It is not meant to say “I believe in God,” but that “I love my people.”
Much of what I carry is internal and abstract. I carry potential, grief, thought, talent, weakness and pride. I carry a competitive nature. I carry some kind of awareness that everyone around me is participating in life like I am, and somehow that awareness keeps me from coming unhinged at the joints when I think about how incomprehensible, complex and confusing our world is.
Like my generation, I carry the burden of expectations, need, attention, security and desire. But in that desire I carry something deeper; I carry a goal to be an ambassador, a wish to carry my generation, an unyielding, powerful craving to do something, anything, that may change someone.