February 14, 2014

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Winter weather’s redeeming quality: It gives us the chance to help others

Sean GallagherI have to go back several years to find a time when I was a fan of winter weather—probably back to the age of some of my boys. But probably not the older ones, since I was a paperboy at their age and delivered papers in the snow and cold.

As I’ve gotten older, it’s just been harder and harder for me to find any redeeming qualities to the snow, cold temperatures and short days of winter.

For the past six weeks, I’ve had more than my fair share of winter storms to cope with here in central and southern Indiana.

But I think I’ve started to turn over a new leaf—a phrase that leads me to think of spring—and see the good that has come out of the challenging start to 2014.

At the very least, these past weeks will give my boys memories that they can share well into the future. At bedtime, they ask me to share stories about what it was like when I was growing up. One that I have told them several times (they don’t mind stories being repeated) is my experience of the Blizzard of 1978.

I was 7 at the time that the historic storm struck our state. My dad turned 40 right in the middle of it. His birthday cake couldn’t be picked up from the bakery, and his party had to be cancelled. But blizzard or no blizzard, he had to get out to his parents’ farm a few miles east of Shelbyville to care for some hogs there.

He took me along with him in the middle of the cold, snow and wind. I recall seeing snow drifts that rose above a porch roof on a building at the farm. Our truck got stuck in the snow. And then a tractor my dad got out to free the truck also got stuck. Thankfully, a family friend came by with a big four-wheel drive truck to help us out.

Perhaps 35 years from now, my four older boys will tell stories of how they worked as a shoveling crew. They’ve not only cleared our driveway and sidewalks of snow and ice. They’ve also done the same for our neighbors who’ve needed help.

And they did this simply out of the goodness of their hearts. They didn’t ask to be paid. They simply went out at the suggestion of my wife, Cindy, and I and went to work. The only reward that they expected out of it was the hot cocoa that Cindy always had waiting for them when they came in from the cold.

Each day of our lives, we’re given opportunities to help other people in need. And much of the time we take advantage of those chances. With the help of God’s grace, we forget our own needs and desires, at least for a few moments, and do something good for another person.

These good deeds often happen in the course of the ordinary days that fill up our lives, so we can easily not take notice of them or forget them soon after we’re finished.

To a certain extent, this forgetfulness is a good thing. Christ calls us to shun alterior motives when doing good for other people: “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Mt 6:3-4).

But as a parent, I see the good in my boys recognizing when they’ve done God’s will, put aside their own desires and helped someone in need. That awareness can help them build up a habit of doing good in their lives. Indeed, this awareness can be as good for us adults as it is for children.

That’s why when we pray as a family before going to bed, we invite the boys to give thanks to Jesus for a specific good thing that he helped them accomplish during the day.

Well, they’ve had plenty of chances during the first six weeks of 2014 to help out other people. Hopefully, they’ll continue to cooperate with God’s grace in doing good in the months of the year that are more civilized in their climate.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

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