Hidden Mercy

Hidden Mercy

The wind will take your soul on a day like this, leave it tattered and flapping in the branches of a tall tree, like a kid’s lost kite. I lay in bed two snoozes after the alarm had woken me and listened to the gusts whistling past the corners of the house. My phone told me it was 1F, or as I said to my kids, “Boys, there’s a degree outside, just the one, so dress warm.”

I pushed open the curtains and made the coffee. The wind grabbed great handfuls of snow and swirled them down the street like small, icy tornadoes. A little part of my soul died.

I just want to stretch my limbs where it’s warm, feel the sun heat my skin and raise the short hairs on my arms. I want to hammer for twenty minutes and then soft pedal for an hour, then do it again. Lately, every ride has been a survival event.

I want to drain a water bottle as I ride no-handed down the road, not shake one in a gloved hand, trying to keep it from freezing solid.

I want to feel supple rubber against hot pavement, not gamble on the traction of the gray-black snow that’s been carved and compacted by crawling cars and the boots of poor walkers, forced off the sidewalks (what sidewalks?) and into the narrow sluice left to us all.

I want take off my helmet and run my fingers through my sweat-slick hair, unzip my jersey and feel a soft breeze on my chest. I want to slug an iced coffee and pull off my socks and shoes, dangle my ride-weary feet in a stream. Then I want to take a shower.

In the last four weeks I have raked 7 feet of snow from my roof.

The Persian poet, Rumi said, “Suffering is a gift. In it is hidden mercy.” Rumi lived in Anatolia, Central Asia, basically modern day Turkey, in the 13th century. He is still widely read in Persian, which means he was probably smarter than I am. And it snows in Turkey, especially in the central part of the country, which is a high plateau. Could his wisdom, his way with words notwithstanding, have come from close contact with the sort of weather we are experiencing in New England in 2015?

Maybe the hidden mercy is that one day I will be wiser than I am now. And maybe it’s that through this suffering, like suffering on the bike, I become inured to harder living, which spares me future suffering. I don’t know. That’s some heavy shit. Like the hidden mercy, accumulating on my roof, even now, the great, white walls that hem the trench from front door to street, the sodden hopes of the whole city, barking at each other over a snowblower’s rumble, honking in impassable streets.

Maybe the hidden mercy is that this isn’t really suffering. It’s only inconvenience and discomfort, and that when it’s over, we’ll understand that and be better for it. Maybe, as long as we can daydream about riding a bike, we actually have no problems at all.


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  1. Tom in Albany

    While I haven’t raked off 7 feet, I’ve visited the roof plenty in the last few weeks. Staring down at the 25-30 drop to the ground, I question my sanity. But those drips wait for no man and slowly do plenty of damage.

    On the fun side, I just read about a snow tunnel that was built, and subsequently destroyed in the Boston area. Well, that sounds like a fun weekend project!


    Thanks for the perspective. To suffer IS to learn. And, as you note, we’re inconvenienced.

    Cheers! -Tom

    1. Dan Murphy

      But no! Mercy comes in the form of skiing.

      OK, maybe I’m being one of those obnoxious skiers. I’ve lived in the Greater Boston area for 60+ years now, and if it weren’t for skiing, I’d go nuts during these winters.

  2. MattC

    Brrrrr…I can easily drift back in time to feel your pain (grew up in Wyoming and Montana, and then add two post-Navy retirement years in North Chicago). No longer live ‘up there’ for a reason…and that reason is WINTER. SO not a fan. Used to ski/snowboard, but realized that I’m one bad spill from having knee surgery (or worse) and gave that up so-as not to jeopardize bike time. I long to retire in Hawaii (lived on Oahu for 10 years) but for now, the California Central Coast aint too shabby. Tho we do get a lot of wind. Er, I mean WIND. But it beats snow…mostly. Stay warm and keep the dreams alive Robot!

  3. Pat O'Brien

    Great Lake Naval Training Center. A little chilly in the winter when the “Hawk” comes off the lake! I grew up in Waukegan and now live (retired) in SE Arizona. You know why!

  4. James

    I too, live in New England. I had not been out on the road for 4 weeks and that’s a record.
    I’ve always lived here, and having raced for 35 years, riding through the winter is normal, heck required!
    Worried about my non-evolving fitness, especially with a trip to Europe in 16 weeks, I rode.
    Started out at 22 degrees and finished at 16 degrees.
    When my wife gets home, she’ll notice I’m not as cranky as I have been lately.
    That ride was way better than sitting on the couch.

    1. Walt S

      I’ve gotten soft. When I used to live in Oberlin, Ohio, I would ride all year round, even in the depths of winter. Winter clothing was nowhere near as good as it is now, so I made do with what there was to be had. Frozen toes and frozen fingers were all part of the price to pay for playing on the bike in January and February.

      When I moved to Gallup, New Mexico, winter wasn’t quite as brutal, but it still was formidable. I would ride to work and arrive with mustache frozen and elicit incredulous looks that I know the cycling uninitiated were questioning my sanity. One of the fondest memories was after a significant snow storm, riding through town on my mountain bike, able to somehow remain upright with 6 inches of snow on the ground and laughing like a kid again with the absurdity of it all.

      I’ve gotten soft and old. It was 35 degrees today. In a past life, that would have been balmy for February and an opportunity to be taken advantage of, but my current frame of reference tells me it is just too damn cold to go outside and do foolish things like ride a bike.

      I am working on an attitude adjustment about all of this. I think that just might just be accomplished this spring when the temps get into the 50s. Yes I have gotten old and soft, but I’m OK with that.


  5. Peter Kelley

    My kids are not wont to helping much with the outdoor chores. They are also not wont to give my wife and I much time alone. My winter’s hidden gift was the 3 hours spent working together with my wife on Sunday, chipping and shoveling ice from the driveway, talking, and soaking in the sun and warm 38 degree air.

  6. Michael

    I am envious of your snow. Out in much of the west, we have had yet another dry and warm winter – the snowfall you have had would have been normal back when the climate was “normal”. Instead, we are looking at some scary changes in the ecosystems. The tree die-offs are worse each year. I’d take more snow any day! But, I DO completely empathize with your feeling laying there in bed the other morning. It does get to wearing on you a bit somewhere around late February, even if you do ski. Skiing doesn’t get the drive shoveled or you to work, even if it does help the attitude.

  7. Maremma Mark

    Having grown up in Iowa and MIchigan I can readily identify with Robot’s winter malaise. However it’s been over 20 years that I have lived in Italy, Tuscany to be precise. And while there are winters here, cold, wet and windy, they are nothing compared to what the northern states are experiencing this year. I can ride year ’round on the road here, it only requires good clothing and the willingness to get a bit wet. If anything you need to pay attention not to ramp it up too soon or by July you’ll be heading to the beach instead of out for another scorching ride.
    Indeed, winters are not true suffering. Unless your stomach is empty, you can’t heat your house or worse, someone’s drones are bombing you. I’m sure that the riders of the great white north will survive until spring, even if it means pedaling on indoor trainers. Nature can be merciful, you just have to be patient.

  8. Don Jagoe

    We live in Newport, RI–I can empathize. I once heard a very famous gardener state that snow is rich in nitrogen and is “nature’s fertilizer.” So, if that is true, SOMEDAY we will have warm breezes, hot tarmac and gloriously green trees and grass to enjoy as we cycle by. Not tonight, with 2-4 more inches coming, but someday…In the meantime, my passport reads “Sufferlandrian.”

    Great post, as always.

  9. Pat N.

    A bunch of us who cycle commute in Chicago were trading emails a couple of weeks ago, and a good friend who is 66 and commutes regularly wrote, “I’ll see you guys when the first number in the temperature is 4.” Well, as luck would have it, it was precisely 4°F the next morning as I prepared to ride the 13 miles to my office.

    “Dave!” I emailed, “The first number in the temperature is 4! See you out there!”

    That same morning, another friend who lives in Santa Barbara was bemoaning the “cold snap” that had befallen the central California coast — daytime highs in the upper 50s/low 60s, via text message. I snapped a pic of me in full winter battle attire (two full balaclavas, ski goggles, mittens, five layers on top, three on the bottom, etc.) on the Chicago lakefront path in front of what appeared to be a giant, frozen, freshwater sea lion.

    “It’s all relative,” I messaged back. “Today, it’s 4 here. Tomorrow’s 10 will feel downright balmy.”

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