Snow & circumstance
A rambling by Tom Knapp,
February 2000

All it takes is a few good falls of snow and the defining invention of the 20th century -- the automobile -- comes to a standstill. Every few years in my hometown of Lancaster, Pa. -- more often in some places, less in others -- a series of snow and sleet storms leaves cars stuck in drifts or spinning on ice for a few days or weeks, and life in the 'hood takes a new turn.

In downtown Lancaster, where more people live in less space than in any other part of Lancaster County, neighbors are meeting each other, often for the very first time.

It's true what they say, that modern technology serves largely to separate people. Advances in the communication and transportation industries particularly have brought folks closer to the world while distancing them from the people next door. After all, why walk down the street to chat with a neighbor when the Internet has chatrooms galore, available in your own home? Why jostle elbows at the mall when the Internet merchants will bring all your worldly needs to your door?

But not during and after winter storms. Unless they are willing to ignore the outside world entirely and huddle by the furnace, many people are forced by circumstances out into their communities.

And thus they meet.

How many people can break their backs with a snow shovel without pausing to chat with another frozen laborer down the block? Who won't spare some shovel time for an elderly neighbor who can't clear her own walk? And whose heart is so hard that he won't put his weight behind a car when its wheels are helplessly spinning in the snow, even if he doesn't really know the driver?

People who usually drive to the grocery store just two blocks away find themselves walking when streets are coated with ice, and consequently they tend to meet and greet the people -- fellow sufferers all -- that they pass along the way.

For no other reason, it's possible to find a glimmer of good in all the snow, sleet, slush and ice that occasionally -- perhaps too rarely -- blankets my town.

[ by Tom Knapp ]