Snow! I can hardly say the word without inspiring deep dreadful terror in my fellow Southerners. For the days leading up to the forecasted opening of the heavens are full of worried murmurs: “They’re callin’,” they whisper, “for four to ten inches on Friday!” So, well-meaning pot-bellied men inquire about the status of your snow tires and whatever-wheel-drive your car might be. Women wrinkle their faces with consternation during hasty preparations to get home before the impending doom, before the white death scatters its hoarfrost over the rugged mountain’d earth. They all rush to where the heat suffocates to comfort while the snow licks the ground just beyond frosted windowpanes.
Not all are so lucky. Cars (both front-wheel and rear-wheel) and those big diesel trucks alike slide down the icy hills and, staggering like drunk men, try to get back up them. Some slide off the road before coming to a comfortable stop. Some hit power lines, plunging iced streets into night. While across town, lying in bed, some can feel the chill whispering on that foot sticking out from under the blankets. Meanwhile, the stifling heat leaks out doors and windows into the outer darkness beyond. Silence and the clock reads blank.
Unless you’ve been living under that rock permafrosted to the earth, you’re most likely aware that we had a presidential inauguration recently. These are always occasions to celebrate the civic religion. Always, if you will, a moment of great self-congratulation as the so-called greatest nation on earth selects a leader without bloodying the soil (whether he is Democrat, Republican or Whig). “Look,” the country seems to say, “How well we peacefully transfer power — like woah! — and what a feat that was in twenty-twelve, y’all!” My God, we’re exceptionally good at lauding ourselves at these things.
And, yes, of course, he said we have plenty of work to do. We the people must, the President inferred, roll up our proverbial sleeves just like he did on the campaign trail and do the good democratic work of bringing the American dream to the dreamless disenfranchised. “We must act,” he said, “knowing that our work will be imperfect.” We must act to bring about that self-evident truth of the equality of all women and men, regardless of race, religion, creed, sexuality, et cetera, et cetera.
Generations ago, was not a black man sold into slavery? Then a few decades ago was he not a second-class citizen in Alabama? But now is not a black man the President of the these United States? Do we not shine in transformed brightness of this fraternity of brothers and sisters? We must build that Republic that great men once said could shine like a city on a hill, illuminating the cold world frozen in sundry tyrannies. So on and so forth, until Beyoncé maybe (definitely) lip-synced about watching over ramparts for the night-proof of the flag still flying.
But, revolutionaries (both pacifist and violent) teach that equality has little to do with building up and more with tearing down. After all, we cannot beg freedom from a foreign sovereign, but must seize God-given rights in a bloody coup d’etat. We cannot build or compromise our way out of slavery, but must ruin the institution all-together. The unfinished pyramid of our Republic needs to be knocked down every once in awhile in order to reach higher to that all-seeing eye of God. Or so it seems, they say.
And, yes, on a snowy Sunday, do not the faithful stamp their feet in the narthex and shake their hair kissed by wintry flakes in an almost bored procession to the Altar of God? Do they not inquire of each other on how their roads were and who drove out in the snowstorm a few days ago, or does anybody need a ride? Do they not kneel as one and speak as one in belief towards the one God, heaven-maker and son-giver? Do they not drink from the same one cup of salvation? Is their not unity in their harmony?
Yet, even here at the Altar of Sacrifice, do not proud divisions remain . . . so . . . well, proud? Do we not congratulate ourselves on our myriads of race and sexualities and so on, even though we are all over-educated classists? Do we not speak with pride about our diversity, even though we only use the same monophonic watered-down “nice” words of bourgeois liberalism? Is this unity? Do we not prevent the destruction of certain bureaucratic ecclesiastical institutions of a forgotten age because–well, who the hell knows why we do that! My God, we’re exceptionally good at lauding ourselves! Is this the brotherhood of man?
Even with all this unity and community bombast, I can’t honestly say whether I’ve ever seen that so-called self-evident truth in either the Church or the State. I’ve heard we’re good at it, but I haven’t seen it. Yet, I have lived through snowstorms where the power was knocked out, when it did not matter who you know or how much money you make or how well-known your pretentious little subdivision is, when road and grass are obscured into one by snow seen without lights, all return to default. Wealth, poverty, great and small are rendered the same by a snowstorm. The slate is wiped clean and the constructed pyramid of civilization crumbles for a brief moment into nothing. It is only here, at the mercy of uncontrollable forces under the all-seeing eye of God, that all live as they were created: equal.