The Colour of Snow


“What colour is snow?” The child had topaz coloured eyes and dimpled cheeks like punched dough.

“Well,” I looked down at him, puzzled, wondering if the cold had turned his head. Building snowmen on the field with thirty nine and ten year olds had pretty much turned mine, but I didn’t want to be rude.

“It’s white, isn’t it?” I replied, panting at the effort of rolling ‘snow arms’.

He threw his head back and laughed like a drain, “That’s what everyone says!” he crowed delightedly, “But it’s not, is it?”

I glanced around quickly, as if to check, and threw my arm out, narrowly missing some upturned children patiently rolling a ‘head’  “It is though, isn’t it?”

“No, no, it’s not!” He gestured around at the path , the field and the road beyond the trees, “Everyone says that ‘cos it looks it from the window. But, soon as you step on it, to check, like, it changes, ‘dunnit?”

I considered. The field stretched away, grey and slushy, covered with the footprints of children in snow-wear and shivering teachers. In the distance, a few trees netted the sky and a dog walker trudged, head-down, across the park dragging a recumbent hound (there ought to be a Winter Olympics for dogs, a kind of freestyle skidding).

“See!” he said. I realised he was standing next to me, hands on hips, following my gaze.

“What colour is it then?”

Sometimes white,” he insisted, “But sometimes dirty or brown or grey…but it’s still snow,” he added, with satisfaction, “And that’s all that counts.” With that, he emitted a fearsome yell and plunged into the ‘head-rolling group’ with such vigour that I had to intervene.

I remembered this when I was out walking yesterday. The area behind our house is a nature reserve and covered with winding paths, fences and trees. Further on, there’s a lake. We moved five weeks ago from London to Sussex so this is still exciting for us.

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In some ways, country snow is like city snow – at night, lamp-eyed and quiet, a slab of silver on black. But, in daylight, there are things sticking up in it, mostly buildings and people. Here, there are more fences or bits of wood, or sheep.  There is slush too, and footprints and bottom prints of reluctant dogs. But the sky is different, somehow – wider and filled with movement as if the clouds have more space to dance.

When I go into the small town where we live, I always think, Where is everyone? The street is empty but when you go into the coffee shops they’re buzzing. It has everything you need really on the little high street – shops and cafes and a tiny independent cinema (one of the oldest in England). There’s a library and a bookshop and a fourteenth century church (with big nineteenth century bits) and a road called Pudding Cake Lane. When you get into your car and go somewhere else, there’s an actual place where the town stops, with fields or hills before you get to the next one. Amazing.

I wanted to move here to the country for lots of reasons. We had planned for it and hoped for it and prayed it would all work out, and it did. But strangely, this didn’t make it any easier when the big day came. I find it fascinating how we both long for and resist change, as if our arms reach out for the new while our legs brace themselves against each tiny hint of loss. But change brings loss, though it’s never quite as it seems. The friends I feared losing come down and stay so I get more quality time with them. The gorgeous children I worked with, or rather their generous teacher sends me photos to keep me connected. And there are children at our new church (who try not to look panicked when I bear down on them brightly). The house we rebuilt and treasured is lived in by friends, and our new one is light and spacious.There are no corner shops to buy emergency chocolate, but Tesco is walkable and open ’til midnight.

Also, although there aren’t many people sticking out of the snow, they are all friendly and they say things to you (while dragging their dogs – there are a lot of dogs) like “Morning!” or, “The weather!” or just roll their eyes (about the dogs). I would like a dog but my husband says, “Over my dead body” and I quite like my husband, so that’s the end of that.

I think God – or life, whatever you believe in. I choose God – has good plans for us. Sometimes they are drowned out by noise or pain or change that can cloak all colour in a blizzard of white, leaving us breathless and scared – an upturned palette. But there’ll be people sticking out of the snow to cheer us, messages in bibles and books to urge us on, and children to make us smile and remind us that things aren’t what they seem. And as those tiny steps tiptoe, hesitant, into the future, everything changes.

Like the colour of snow.

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“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”
― C. Joy Bell

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls” The Bible , Jeremiah 6:16

 

 

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Habits of Delight and the Myth of Joyful Parenting?


The international happiness expert (yes, there is one), Paul Dolan, was on Radio 4 this morning. He says true happiness is finding the balance between things we find pleasurable and things we find purposeful. He cited having children as an example, saying that according to all the happiness data, we shouldn’t bother. At best they come out as neutral. But he admitted that what he hadn’t appreciated was the sense of purpose associated with the experiences of having children, and of the pleasure gained from seeing the world through their eyes. There is a difference, he claims, between this and the stories that we tell ourselves about how happy children make us. According to his findings most of spend our lives living out such stories via the things we think should make us feel good, without paying enough attention to what actually does.

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I, filling my face with chocolate croissants and coffee in bed, along with the paper and a pack of Oreos (for back-up), decide I don’t have a problem with this. I work hard all week teaching the nation’s children column subtraction and kindness (“So stamping on spiders is okay is it? How do you think that spider’s mummy feels?” “Um…sad?”), so I feel this purposeful, and frankly exhausting, vocation justifies a bit of sloth at weekends.

I know what he means about the stories we tell ourselves (and others). Though I think as you get older, you tire of them and find it easier to admit the truth – that gardening’s more fulfilling than shopping, small houses hold as much joy as big ones, and that your favourite holiday was in the New Forest when a pony lunged your tent and scoffed a packet of Frosties. It might not have been pleasurable at the time but you’ve had endless laughs reliving the memory at Christmas. And it’s become the stuff of legend, pleasantly embellished each time to the point where you’d trade your mini-break in a hotel in Venice for it any day. Who’d want you to talk about that?

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There’s so much around reminding us that happy people enjoy small pleasures, live in the present, pay attention to the moment. Mindfulness is the new “You’re worth it!” so I’m grateful to it on that score, if on no other. Is happiness just positive thinking then, invading your emotions? Or is it something that can’t be quantified on a scale, whatever the experts say? Someone living with daily physical pain, would be happy for a day without it. A person of limited means would be happy with one holiday. Someone used to three annual holidays abroad wouldn’t. The small pleasures associated with a cottage on a farm in Devon would probably pass them by.

Is happiness more like a habit, a lens through which you view your life? This, I think, is where children are experts.

“Mrs Jenkins! There’s a man on that roof!”

“Mrs Jenkins! I’m going to the park after school!”

Some adults are good at this too – there are at least two of them in my family and being with them always gives me a lift. The word I would ascribe to their way of looking at life is “delight”. Everything excites them – from a cup of tea to the prospect of snow. And neither of them are children. You don’t need children to teach you how to be happy. There’s a child inside you, with a delight habit. You’ve just forgotten how to listen…

So what would be your perfectly happy day?

Mine would be breakfast in bed with the paper, a walk with my husband somewhere beautiful, then an afternoon’s writing. I’d spend the evening wandering narrow streets, lined with shops for browsing, towards a restaurant with a view. And I’d do this with the people I like most in the world, who are all still children where it counts…

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