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Enjoy the snow

Jack Rooney | Friday, February 1, 2013

Last Monday, our humble campus was finally blessed with one of Mother Nature’s most truly magnificent gifts: snow. To some of us on campus, this powdery white precipitation might be viewed as a nuisance, to others, a novelty. All of us, however, have made the transition from sneakers and Sperrys to Uggs (and less feminine winter footwear) and from t-shirts and hoodies to bulky yet remarkably cozy coats. Why? Because this is the Midwest, and no matter where we hail from, we have to play by the rules – the cold, windy, sometimes soul-crushing rules of winter.
Some of us, like myself, have grown up with snow. We have participated in countless snowball fights, made a myriad of snow angels and, of course, we are all seasoned sledders. We embrace the winter and everything that comes with it, and I for one enjoy it. I love experiencing all four seasons because I always have something to look forward to and eagerly await. As The Temptations said (or, to be more precise, sang), “When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May.” But for now, the month of May can wait, because I’m going to take my time enjoying the snow.
I am perfectly content to wait for spring because in a way, I think winter, and especially the snow, brings out the best in us. Sure, at times the serene beauty of winter brings with it bone-chilling winds and dangerously icy sidewalks, but it’s all well worth it. While walking to class early in the morning last week through the wind tunnel that is South Quad, I heard someone yell, in a voice much too loud for any time before 9 a.m., “Weather builds character!” Though this merry winter warrior was certainly aiming for humor, I found profound truth in his exclamation as well. As a matter of fact, I think it is remarkably true in a number of ways.
Of course, the cold, wind and snow build our physical durability, but weather builds character in a much deeper way than simply thickening our skin. I have found snow makes us more willing and happy to help one another. Whenever it snows at home, one of my neighbors almost always clears a path in the sidewalk the entire length of the block with a snow blower before anyone else is even awake. When Chicago was inundated with roughly 23 inches of snow nearly two years ago, my entire neighborhood took on the waist-high snowdrifts together. Never before, or since, have I seen such impromptu teamwork and genuine care for the community.
Perhaps more than bringing people together though, I love the snow because it is so simply and uniquely fun. Nothing quite lets out our inner child than the prospect of playing in the snow until we can’t feel our fingers anymore. The simple fact is winter allows us to revert to our five-year-old selves for a while and make snow angels, go ice skating and build snowmen. This observation was perfectly portrayed last Wednesday night, when at the stroke of midnight, hundreds of my fellow students and I, all legal adults mind you, took to South Quad and engaged in the largest snowball fight I have ever had the pleasure of partaking in. For the record, I am proud to claim, though un-authoritatively so, a victory for South Quad.
Winter affects our lives in many more ways, too, many of them we don’t necessarily realize. In many areas, including Chicago, the “politics of snow” is a well-documented political phenomenon. With elections often occurring in the middle of winter, the timely and effective management of snowstorms can make or break a campaign. As a matter of fact, Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic lost a reelection campaign in 1979, partly due to his mismanagement of a blizzard in January of that year that dumped just shy of 19 inches of snow on the city. In the same vein, many Midwestern governments regularly spend tens of millions of dollars on snow removal each winter.
As a self-professed literary nerd, though, perhaps my favorite impact snow has on our lives comes in the symbolic nature of snow. In literature, snow can be used as a symbol of purity and rebirth. Snow, particularly an excess of snow, is traditionally used to represent death. Or, as James Joyce most beautifully depicted the snow in his short story “The Dead,” snow can be the universe’s great equalizer. Joyce stunningly and elegantly depicts the snow “falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
Beyond all of the politics, symbolism and cultural significance though, it all comes back to the simplicity and beauty of nature. Indeed, there are few moments in one’s life more breathtakingly beautiful and romantic than watching fragile flakes of snow descend gently to the ground on a quiet winter’s night. So take some time to sit back, relax and enjoy the snow.

Jack Rooney is a freshman studying political science.  He can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.