- by Scotte Burns
I remember waking one winter morning to hope.
It was a small one, its wingbeat barely audible above the digital song of the phone alarm that startled me alive for school each morning. Still, it trembled to life as I picked up the device and squinted into its glowing screen with bleary 5 am teacher’s eyes. Navigating to my district’s site, my fluttering hope met with reality - so often the death knell of the tiny, delicate things - and yet, there it was:
“The District will be closed due to the forecasted dangerously low wind chill and snow throughout the morning. All programs are canceled…”
There are few terms in human tongues that elicit such joy in the heart of a teacher as “Snow Day!” Neither “meeting canceled,” “early release,” nor “no outside duty this week” have the soaring power to make our spirits sing and our hearts beat faster in the moment of their revelation than those two glorious wintertime words. As children at Christmas, we go to bed on its Eve anticipating the certain gift of the following day, which is, of course, wonderful. But we know it’s coming. On the day before a likely winter storm is predicted, teachers go to our slumbers not knowing if tomorrow will be a sparkling offering of unscripted time or simply Thursday. It isn’t that we don’t love your children, but we’ll love them just as well the day after, and a Snow Day means a gift of French-pressed coffee in a cup rather than quick brew in a travel mug. It means letting the sun slowly clear the ice from our windshields rather than our gloved hands gripping a library card to scrape it off in the predawn chill. A Snow Day is one of life’s few rewards that can’t be worked for, can’t be willed into existence. You just have to hope, and then...
Wait for it.
As I savored my first relaxed, steaming morning cup, I relished the rare treat of a Snow Day not only for its unexpected fruition but also because it occurred to me how different the realization of the little hopes we must wait for are from the other, larger ones that we must nurture and cajole and sometimes flog into reality. Those kinds are much less graceful, their wingspans enormous, their push to lift prodigious bodies from the Earth so demanding that it can press our faces and spirits down into that very same ground.
For seven years now, Toni and I have worked during the long winter days to support our too-brief sojourns across the country, collecting stories and pictures, breathing in America’s vistas and tales. We’ve struggled to teach ourselves SEO for marketing and ISO for cameras, SSD for memory, and OMG for all the things we still have to learn. One creaky step through the cracking, icy surface of everyday reality to the next - chasing a dream. These are brittle, icicle days, as the bikes sit idle and our hopes for it all shiver for warmth. We scrape the frost from life’s compass in a search for direction to a place no one’s ever traveled before. It’s a reminder that Snow Days notwithstanding, we can’t wait for it, because when hopes wait too long, they die and transmogrify instead into their shuffling, zombie twins - stilted, blind, directionless creatures called Wishes.
In our first year of Journeys to Love, also the first at my final school, the kids were excited about our initial quest, offering ideas for interviews, an eagerness to see our early videos, and generously collecting three hundred dollars toward our maiden journey. One of them even made me a little hand-painted plaque I kept on my desk that read, “Don’t wish for it, work for it.” If only I’d been that smart when I was thirteen. No, wait...I did work for that wisdom later on, I think, and that might partly be why my young padawan gets it early. The evolution and passing of wisdom is a beautiful thing!
My last request of the school was to have that plaque bolted to the wall, right above the classroom door, so it could be seen, and touched, and pondered long after I’d gone. Since then, I hope it’s been dusted off under new touches many times over, though the students with whom I shared that room may have largely forgotten that Toni and I are still “working for it,” past the gifts of Snow Days, over the trips back and forth from our Colorado roots to the Journey’s home base in South Dakota, through our dwindling bank account, and into a future it’s unclear how we’ll support. Every day, we push that enormous, ungainly thing called Hope toward the sky because we’ve seen what it looks like when it flies. It’s worth every pulled muscle, every drop of sweat, tear of frustration, and breathless moment when we feel we might be getting closer to sky than dirt. The things worth having are worth not waiting for. Push, baby. Push!
We’re not there yet, but as our hopes first became goals, and then as our goals are reached and finally become the realization of our dream, I often think of that little plaque hopefully still bolted to the wall of my old classroom, right below the clock - where I know every kid will look at least once a day in the years to come - well, except for Snow Days, of course. And, assuming there’s a least a few whose minds and hearts wander from the day’s lessons to their own hopes, as mine so often did in school at thirteen, they’ll see those words - Don’t Wish for It; Work for It. And they’ll hear the wingbeats. They’ll step out into the cold with warmer hearts and look at the lives they can have, the hopes that might fly from the icy bluster of the present into a future summer of their own making. They’ll look that hope full in the face and say…
I can’t wait.