Faith in humanity: restored

For those of you friends with me on Facebook, I apologize for rehashing this story multiple times in various places. It just seems too great to me, though, not to share…

So in Wisconsin, snow is nothing new. There’s a possibility we have to deal with it around half of the year, sometimes in greater quantities than others. But the first major snowfall is usually a doozy. This one more so, I think, because typically by this time it would have been at least the third or fourth major dumping. The fact that the snow held off for so long means it’s been longer since people have driven in it and it’s given them more time to forget how bad it can be. Luckily I didn’t encounter any accidents on the way home from work this evening, but something else much more heart-warming.

See, I live on possibly the most horrendous hill in Madison, which also happens to be on one of the busiest streets in Madison: Gorham. I was lucky enough to be able to leave work early today, but it still took nearly an hour to cross town (that’s less than 8 miles, for those of you keeping track) and by the time I got closer to home downtown, it was full-on rush hour. I was going around 5 miles an hour most of the time on University Ave, almost got stuck rounding a couple corners, and by the time I turned around onto Gorham less than 2 blocks from my apartment, traffic was at a complete standstill.

Though this is my first year living in Madison, I’ve visited friends enough that I knew it was going to be bad. In fact, the snow storm 2 or 3 years ago that paralyzed the city and shut down the university for the first time in 20some years? Yeah, I drove to Madison the very next day. I even specifically remember driving down Gorham, quite possibly up the very hill that I now live on, and I remember needing to turn my wheel counter clockwise 90 degrees to keep straight. Let’s just say my skills as a winter driver were tested (and proven!) that weekend, and I knew tonight would be no different.

I knew perhaps not all the other drivers would be as familiar with the treachery that is the Hill of Gorham, so I wasn’t altogether surprised to find traffic stopped. Unfortunately, for those of you who know anything about physics or winter driving, if you’re coming up to a steep hill that’s also full of sludge, you’re not going to get anywhere without momentum. I was able to survive the hill the first time because traffic was moving at a normal – perhaps slower, but at least forward – pace. Once you get the momentum to make it over the crest, you’re golden. But if you never have any momentum to begin with, well… good luck.

Coming up to the hill at less than 5 miles per hour, I braced myself for the worst. So imagine my surprise when I looked around and noticed my neighbors – one of them being my incredible boyfriend – standing around shoveling the road and helping to push cars over the hill! If not for them I wouldn’t have made it into my unplowed driveway, much less up the hill.

Let me iterate this for you for emphasis. This was a group of 6 or 7 people, my age, just standing outside their houses with shovels and their own strength to help people out. They weren’t getting paid, they weren’t in it for anything. They were literally running over to cars as their wheels spun tirelessly, digging and pushing them out just enough so they could make it over the hill and be on their way. They had been standing out there in the cold, the wind and the snow for an hour by the time I reached home. If that isn’t an act of good samaritanism, I don’t know what is.

You can bet as soon as I got upstairs and my legs stopped shaking from adrenaline, I rushed out there to help. The plows didn’t make it out until after 5:30, which wasn’t long after I got out to help. But, it was still much later than they should have been out, no doubt due to the unending backup on the road. I don’t want to think about how much longer it would have taken for the plows to get through if not for the group of people helping. Worse, I don’t want to think about how many accidents or injuries may have happened if not for them.

Thankfully once the plows made a couple rounds, things started moving much smoother and we were all able to head back inside. But I’ll never forget the sense of community and selflessness I felt tonight, knowing that despite everything horrible that happens all around the world everyday, maybe there are a still few good souls left. I tried to get some pictures while I was out there but it was just too dark, and when the flash fired, all you could see was snow. Hopefully I can give you at least a little idea of the scene I encountered, and you can hopefully have a little more faith in genuine, kindhearted human nature. :)

Kevin and a few others pushing a van up the hill

The scene outside my front door

Looking down Gorham: a whoooole lotta cars, and the crew off to the right.

Plows finally coming through!!

Roads looking a little better after the plows

Plow, and snow

The crew standing by. Notice how straight (or not) that truck is driving.

Kevin looking like an old man but without the wrinkles. Did I mention he was out there for an hour?!


And now, your daily dose of cheese.

“In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted. Only artistic excellence is incorruptible. Pleasure cannot be bargained down. And sometimes the meal is the only currency that is real. To devote yourself to the creation and enjoyment of beauty, then, can be a serious business – not always necessarily a means of escaping reality, but sometimes a means of holding on to the real when everything else is flaking away…”
~Elizabeth Gilbert, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’

Have you ever had one of those moments where something so beautiful just captivates you, illuminates your right brain and whisks you off so deep down into it that time just seems to stop? I had that last night as I was driving home. I caught a glimpse of the sunset-lit Lake Mendota as I was turning the corner to my apartment… something about the lake, the fading trees illuminated by the falling sun… I almost forgot to stop breathing. As soon as I parked my car I walked briskly over to the edge of the lake where I just sat in awe of life.

Walking over to the lake was like entering a new world. I caught a glimpse of it driving by, but it all became more real as I neared the water. It was a haven, carefully guarded and cleverly disguised by scraggly branches and yellowing grass covered in fallen leaves and men playing frisbee. Just passing by, without giving second thought, it just looked like your average park on a November evening. But given a second, deeper look, the lake transformed into something transcendental; something so mystical that only those actively searching for it might be lucky enough to find it.

It was all so picturesque, so pure, so perfect. The silhouette of a man fishing off a dock in the distance. Purples and pinks dancing off the blue sky and water, complementing the fading reds and oranges slowly turning into coppers and browns. Ducks quietly conversing, moving across the water in groups, calling to other ducks behind me that may or may not have actually been humans. Another photographer nearby who exchanged glances with me, who I swear could feel whatever magic was in the air as deep as I could; our silent nods to one another testimony to the intangible beauty of a chilled evening as fall gently slipped into winter.

It’s the feeling when you wake up slowly, gently, still unsure if you’re dreaming or not. And as your brain slowly emerges into consciousness, you lay there with your eyes closed, still in a state of euphoria but entirely aware of your surroundings, so entirely focused on not losing that moment, and yet entirely at peace.

But you know it won’t last forever, and some unwarranted stimulus jolts you back into reality. A group of teenagers I would suppose, chatting merrily and laughing, basking in the sunset and enjoying the calm that an early Friday evening brings before a long night of raucous. A dying camera battery as I desperately try to capture everything about this moment before it slips away. My camera records the image of this memory, but only I can recall the feeling it brought. I exchange glances with the photographer as I walk back up the path to reality and only then begin to feel how my fingers have turned numb; my nose and cheeks, blushing red from the chill in the air.

As I walked, I couldn’t help but continue to look over my shoulder. I was being tugged, pulled, begged to stay longer. I reached a mighty tree halfway up, devoid of leaves and slowly losing life; I gave into that pull and stopped to turn around. I felt as though I was leaving something behind, and I looked to the spot where I had sat and saw myself sitting there, peering out over the edge. An entirely out-of-body moment, I knew I could return to that spot at anytime to rediscover this feeling. I lingered just long enough to see the teenagers walking away, surely anxious to begin their night of fun; the photographer, still in that magical place, not yet done capturing the beauty that surrounded him. I longed to be beside him, capturing the beauty in my own image, but I turned, trudging on back into the real world.

I would imagine moments like these to be what religious people experience when they find their god, or their mecca, or their moment of enlightenment, or their holy place or spirit or being. To me, moments like these are what move me to paint pictures with words, to remember what it’s like to dream, to know how it feels to create and be creative. Moments like these are my muse, driving me to capture my experience and attempt to share it with others, even knowing that others will never truly know what it’s like until one day they’re perhaps lucky enough to experience it themselves.