Someday I’ll write an essay to explore why I like shoveling snow. It will go something like this:
I’ll begin at the beginning, relying on memory, since I didn’t start keeping a journal until I was 37 years old, responding to a line from Whitman’s signature poem, Song of Myself, where he says, “I celebrate myself and sing myself and what I assume, you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you…I, now 37 years old and in perfect health, begin.”
I began shoveling snow for pay when I was either six or seven. I practiced at home in our driveway. My two older brothers, Chet and Bill, were doing it, so why couldn’t I?
(I was fortunate to have two older brothers, as well as three younger brothers – then my two sisters came along to my parent’s delighted surprise. Having older siblings makes you try harder –if you’re competitive; having younger siblings reminds you that they are watching, so you have a responsibility to be a good role model.)
I had to convince my would-be customers that I was capable of doing a good job on their walk or driveway. A quarter here and a half-dollar there added up, and it felt good to have my own money in the pocket of those cold pants.
Now I shovel snow for the sheer satisfaction of it. But maybe there’s still a bit of that competitiveness from the early years. It puts me in contact with my beginnings, in both senses – chronological and personality-wise…the formative years and the basic ingredients that were there from the start: ‘some principle of being’ that was delivered in the package that was, and still is, me.
Don’t get me wrong about today’s snow-shoveling days: I’m careful not to over-do it. I’m not trying to prove anything, but neither my somewhat advanced age nor my advancing Parkinson’s prevents me from getting outside with boots, gloves, scarf and a good shovel, defined as one to which wet snow doesn’t stick.
My first shovel was a small, rusted, round-end coal shovel to which snow would stick, requiring constant scraping, slowing down progress and earnings.
Of course I didn’t think about those experiences as formative when I was doing them. I thought only two things: clearing the path from sidewalk to the door of the house, and the financial reward at the end of it. Yes, I was aware of the personal satisfaction part of it, too, and that was a bonus – a kind of snow-shoveler’s tip. Sometimes Bill and I were partners, but I preferred the sole proprietorship. Now, in this final chapter, I realize that ministry is a sole proprietorship – or, better yet, a soul proprietorship. Be well.