In a time of struggle

February 18, 2003

WHAT WOULD we have thought a week ago if told that we were facing an assault on the East Coast that would affect the lives of tens of millions of Americans, shut down airports and most major highways, cause President Bush to scramble out of Camp David by car, prompt Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to declare a Maryland-wide state of emergency and call out the National Guard, leave tired and frustrated travelers with no means of escape other than jam-packed trains, and generally throw Washington and other major cities into a code-red lockdown mode?

If it had been terrorists accomplishing this, people would be screaming for revenge.

As it is, though, about the only sound in most neighborhoods is that of kids screaming with delight. (OK, mixed in with that you might be hearing the screech of a few back-sore shovelers, but they'll get over it.)

The snow came and there was no escaping it. Be honest -- did you have a single phone conversation yesterday that didn't have the word "snow" in it? If you went outside, you had to deal with it. If you didn't go outside, it was probably because of it.

A heavy snow invariably summons up several trustworthy cliches. The quiet. Awe at nature's power. Getting to know neighbors. Stepping back from the daily grind. The thing is, cliches only become cliches because they have staying power. They may be familiar and unoriginal -- but they're true. Don't discount them. It was quiet and it was awesome, and it sure put a kink into our ordinary, isolated lives.

Billions of flakes in motion: Even as they flowed downward they created a larger stillness, one in which there was no room, finally, for all the thoughts of war and death that have been so much with us.

A big storm brings out the best in a lot of people and the worst in a few. No need to dwell on the latter -- let's pause instead to praise those exhausted road crews who were out all weekend, battling an overwhelming foe. Let's praise the doctors and nurses who got to work. And let's praise the generous men and women with four-wheel-drives who shuttled them and others back and forth. SUV's have come in for a lot of criticism recently, but days like these give them a chance to show what they're made of.

And of course all is not sweet and pretty in the snow. People are hurt -- people die. The collapse of the roof on the 1884 B&O Railroad roundhouse at Mount Clare was a dismaying shock. Exhaustion and cold take a relentless toll.

And look out the window -- it's still with us, everywhere.

Long after the kids get tired of sledding, there'll still be melting snow finding its way through leaks in the roof and damming up into shin-chilling puddles where storm drains have gone out of action.

But before we get there, this is what we want to remember: The snow was a given. It didn't matter what we thought of it. We were irrelevant to it. It was an act of power and range and beauty that was far beyond us -- and it was a privilege to be here for the record Storm of '03.

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