Last Saturday, I slipped and slid through the first tendrils of the oncoming snow storm over to Clark Park to take part in Detroit’s first UnSilent Night event. It was cold, windy, dark, and with a fair amount of snow on the ground already, the coffee shop across the street seemed like a more inviting place to be. Nevertheless, when I arrived there were a handful of people there waiting to go, and as the start time drew near a crowd had gathered. Folks who’d just heard about it for the first time, some who’d participated in the event in New York and had waited years to take part in one in Detroit, neighborhood residents who’d seen the group gathering, all came together to await instructions from organizer Garret MacLean and walk together. With boom boxes in hand, everyone hit play on cue, and the group of 50 or so folks trudged through the park.
As I said before, it was cold. Really cold. But despite some grumbling (ok, that was me!), it didn’t seem to deter anyone. And the music played, people walked together, stretching farther apart as the walk went on. Bound together not by previous friendship, but by curiosity and a sense of community, adults, kids, and a few excited dogs, braved the elements together, and by the end, the chill in the air didn’t seem to matter. We all came together under a gazebo back at the park as the composition drew to a close on each person’s music player. And then with thank yous, warm farewells, and the thought of coming together again next year, we all went our separate ways in the snowy night.
Sunday morning comes and the world is blanketed in snow. For nearly the last 10 years, Sundays for me has meant teaching tennis, consistently week in and week out. With the snowfall I got an unplanned day off – a snow day! While I loved (and still love) going to school, I happily acknowledge my thrill for a snow day as a kid, which is just as strong today. A day when you’re all set to go do what you do, and then you can’t, you have to stay in, to stay warm, to rest, to recover, to catch up. And that’s what this day is for me, a break – a free day. Truthfully a “snow month” would come in handy, but this is a perfect and welcome event.
Late that afternoon, after the snow has stopped falling, I do something I haven’t done in some time and never in Detroit. I dig out my cross-country skis from my closet, walk out my door, and take off (ok, not all that fast really) down the alley across a street, and into Lafayette Park, where I continue to trek along through the connected parks down to Jefferson Ave. To be honest, the skiing isn’t fantastic – it’s knee deep in places where I sink right through, and the wind has left bare grass in other spots. But it doesn’t matter. Already with the snow day, I feel like a kid, and skiing along, whirlwinds of snow cutting at my face, only adds to the joy of this day.
On my return trip, I see a boy run out into the park, his mother not far behind him, as he launches himself into a deep patch of snow. Arms and legs flailing he starts making a snow angel. Then he’s up bounding through the snow all over again joyfully. I know exactly how he feels.
Near the end of the trip, I come upon the tracks of skiers who’d come this way before me. Like Robinson Crusoe finding other human tracks, I feel connected to these people whom I haven’t seen and don’t know. It’s a feeling of kinship, of shared experience as with the walk on the previous night.
It’s the end of the week as I write these words, and nearly the shortest day of the year (the longest night), the winter solstice. From here on out, the days started getting longer, and the sun “returns.” This return of the sun has been observed for millennia as a time of rebirth and the beginning of the end of a time of darkness. Whether walking silently with community, enjoying a day off staying warm and playing in the snow, or pausing to reflect on a year’s journey, and the journey of the year to come – I wish you all a safe and happy solstice, and all the other holidays you celebrate this season. – Nick Sousanis