Shootings in Chicago make national news. Snow kindness does not. It rarely even makes local news, except for the occasional gratitude letter to the editor about someone returning home to find his or her walkway shoveled.
But my friend and I experienced a heartwarming degree of snow kindness last week, the day we had six inches of snow in the downtown. We are older women for whom snow is not a deterrent. So after we attended classes at the Gleacher Center, off Michigan Avenue, adjacent to the Chicago River, we set out about 1:30, dressed in our black ankle-length coats, hoods snuggly secured to show only our eyes, to see Side Effects at a movie theater, a walk of about three blocks, including an outdoor three-tiered stairway. We both like movies with a mental health viewpoint and thought this continual snow-falling day a good climate to keep ourselves on the move.
My friend, I’ll call her Carol, is nearly eighty and uses a cane. So with her left arm looped through mine, her right hand on the cane, we started out on the snow-covered sidewalk. We were alone. No pedestrians or cars in sight. Keeping our heads down to shield our eyes from the soft wetness of the snowflakes, we determined that the sidewalk wasn’t treacherous because we could plant and crunch each step into the snow without sliding.
One half block into our walk, a sidewalk plow edged in front of us, out of the blue, the driver waving hello, and plowed to the end of the block. Snow kindness number one.
At the corner, he stopped and waited for us. When we arrived, haltingly slowly, he shouted out of his cab, “Where are you headed?” After I signaled to our right, he put his toy-sized tractor into gear and plowed the next walkway for us. Snow kindness number two.
When we approached the outdoor stairway, Carol let go of my arm, and we each gripped the handrail, gingerly starting our descent. On the third turn of the stairway, I saw a snow shoveller working his way up the steps. He looked up at me and signaled to wait a second while he shoveled off my next steps. Snow kindness number three.
When I reached the bottom, I looked back expecting Carol to be right behind me. She was just starting the third tier—about fifteen steps. A man, about forty, was behind her. He easily could have swung to her left and gone around her. Instead he patiently watched her each step, looking as if he was poised to intervene if she started to waver. Once, he glanced down at me and smiled. Snow kindness number four. As I took a deep breath in relief that we’d gotten this far without incident, the air smelled fresh, clean. Restorative.
When Carol and I reached the corner of that block, we stopped to contemplate how to scale the snow mound that had accumulated at the plowed intersection. Each time I spoke, I used a louder tone of voice so Carol would hear through her hood. For me to hear her response, I jiggled my head a bit inside my hood to give my ear a little air space to catch her words. I was thankful I’d already removed my glasses or I would not have been able to see.
While we were having this discussion about where to step, and how to step in concert so we, arm in arm, wouldn’t go down like dominoes, a young gal coming toward us from across the street, stopped. “Can I help you?” We laughed gallantly and I said, “Oh no, we’re just figuring this out.” Snow kindness number five.
When the movie was over, it was dark out. The snow was still falling. The passing cars, deserted parking lots, and rolling buses were bathed in white against a gray canvas of skyscrapers. We stopped to test the sidewalk for slipperiness and headed toward dinner, after which we left for home, each time resuming our methodical carefulness. Two more times, younger people stopped to offer help. Snow kindnesses number six and seven.
Imagine us, two older women, heads down, giving ourselves a “snow day” from our high-rise lives, inching forward like turtles in the persistently falling snow, feeling loved and protected by our fellow citizens in this grand city of ours. Snow kindnesses like these, volunteered on a frigid afternoon, fortify my faith in our younger generations.
Think of this the next time you read headlines about Chicago.
Check out the storm’s effect during rush hour on the other side of downtown on this Chicago Tribune video. Our experience mirrored that of the man with the cane.