Snowflakes… of the mind?

It snowed a bit in Boston recently.

It snowed rather a lot, actually, and certainly enough to trip up such things as travel plans and any hope of comfortable footwear. Anyone who saw me struggling through the snow with a suitcase on Sunday would have gotten a good laugh out of it—even before noticing that I was attempting to do this in a pair of Aldo loafers and khaki pants.

Sometimes when I dress in the morning, I swear I forget there’s an outside world.

Yes, snow is a beautiful thing, but too much of it can create more than a few headaches. I was reminded of this during a recent trip home to Wisconsin, which has snow like New York has traffic: more than you thought it could, and lasting longer than you ever imagined was possible. There’s nothing like a good night of snow shoveling to remind you of muscles you never knew you had, and while above-average snowfall does give everyone something to talk about the next day, many stay off the roads and keep to the house—either to avoid unsafe conditions or to nurse their aching backs.

I’m always amazed by the accumulation of snow. Somehow, in a matter of only a few hours, all those tiny little snowflakes add up to inches (if not feet) of heavy, inconvenient snow. Any meteorologist would no doubt tell me that there is nothing all that remarkable about it… but they probably have someone to shovel their driveways for them.

Were you told, probably sometime in grade school, that no two snowflakes are alike?

When you imagine how much snow falls upon the world, this may seem unlikely, and indeed recent science may prove such doubts correct. However, being a humanities type myself, I’d like to ignore the science for a moment and take the adage as true. Let’s say that no two snowflakes really are alike.

I recall that from a very young age, this fact was explained to me as a metaphor for humanity: just as no two snowflakes are alike, so also the people of the world are each individual, each special in their own way.

So perhaps it’s no coincidence that the science cited above was published soon after the emergence of the theory of reproductive cloning.

This childhood lesson aside, though, I’ve recently been struck by the similarity snowflakes bear not to people, but to thoughts.

Of course, it’s true that no two thoughts are really alike, but that’s not really the point. The reason that snowflakes remind me of thoughts is because of the accumulation factor. Sometimes, the entire day can seem like an extended snowfall of mental pictures and ideas. When you wake up in the morning, your first thought is probably to mutilate your alarm clock, but this passes quickly. You stumble out of bed, turn on the shower, and stare blearily into the mirror—and, slowly, other thoughts begin to trickle in.

What day is it? Oh, yes… Friday. What should I wear? I have no idea what the weather will be like. How did my toothbrush end up over there? When did I start to look so old?

Most of these thoughts are trivial, a few profound. Some fall into your mind quickly; others float gently down. There are a few that seem to constantly blow around the corners of your imagination, always within reach but never quite settling to the ground.

As your day continues, the pace changes. There are periods of intense snowfall and, at other times, lulls in the storm. Sometimes, the weight of your thoughts can seem overwhelming; once in a while, you wish you could have even one. It isn’t until the end of the day, when your head is once again upon the pillow, that the precipitation finally begins to clear…

… and, for some of us, not even then.

Yes, thoughts are beautiful things, but too many of them can create more than a few headaches. Somehow, in a matter of only a few hours, all those tiny little thoughts add up to a whole blanket of heavy, inconvenient stress.

When it gets to be too much, though, remember: individually, each one of those thoughts is lighter than the air. You might not be bigger than all of them put together, but you are bigger than each of them alone. The accumulation may be daunting, it’s true.

But it’s nothing you can’t take care of with a bit of heavy lifting.


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