Wet with sweat, muscles aching, and out of breath, he leaned against his shovel and was pleased. Shoveling is hard work, honest work, northern Minnesotan work. It had been difficult to leave his family on Christmas Day, but there was no guarantee the weather would hold to drive in to work the morning of the 26th, and so the wife and kids stayed back at the lake while he drove home to find his house slumbering under two feet of snow.
The snowflakes continued to fall as though in slow motion, and the noise of snowblowers had ceased. As he labored, the man thought mostly about what he was doing, and occasionally about Christmas. Engaging in his familiar brand of self-justifying environmentalism, the man imagined that he was working out and losing a little weight while staving off the end of humanity for at least a full second simply by doing things the hard way rather than buying a snowblower like all the other guys in the neighborhood. “You’ll buy one too, you’ll see,” they all said while slowly walking behind their two-stroke snow throwers. Fat chance, the man thought. Big, fat, lazy chance.
Consciously switching to a more positive line of thought, the man noticed the colored lights across the street, red and blue and green, pulsing in a soundless and peaceful pattern. “Sure, holiday lights are an energy indulgence,” he thought, “but since we can’t be perfect we may as well spend our excesses on meaningful personal displays rather than the garish commercialization of Christmas.” His arms and chest were tingling with the cold as he continued to shovel the sidewalk in a relentless shuffle step: scrape, lift, throw…scrape, lift, throw.
“After all, the perfect isn’t the enemy of the good,” scrape, lift, throw. “I might not be a vegan, but that doesn’t mean I should eat fast food every night either.” Scrape, lift, throw. He was really sweating now, moving faster and faster, all ill feelings forgotten in the rhythms of exertion as a sense of weightlessness and detached peace arrived. The stillness of the night grew more still yet, and the colored lights filled his field of vision. The green colored lights had vanished, and the red and blue lights were larger, revolving, insistent. He heard his last words as though listening to himself from a distance as he understood the absence of green. “Ambulance,” he heard himself say, though his lips remained in contact with the sidewalk where he had fallen. “Should have bought a snowblower.”