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  • Melissa Westemeier

that thing with feathers

A week ago I foolishly raised my hopes that we'd get a snow day. I let the prospect of a free day sink giddily into my heart and I started making plans for all the ways I'd spend it--bake dessert, read, catch up on lesson planning, sort through correspondence, clear off my desk. The next morning my alarm rang and my phone did not. I sulked my way through my morning ritual, bitterly sipped my coffee and scowled at the light snowfall on the pavement. Then I sorted out my expression when I roused my children in order to absorb their disappointment when they discovered it was a Normal School Day. My disappointment morphed into self-loathing because I'd gotten my hopes up and should've known better in the first place. If you expect nothing, you're glad to get anything. These are wise words to live by.

This weekend a friend and her daughter taught me that to guarantee a snow day one must flush ice cubes down the toilet, eat ice cream and put the spoon beneath one's pillow, and wear pajamas inside-out-and-backwards to bed. I spent Saturday and Sunday sitting in bleachers watching Mr. G play basketball at two tournaments this weekend, occasionally peeking at my phone's screen. How many inches now? When will it start? THAT cold on Wednesday? I drove home from Mr. G's second tournament last night (his team took 2nd place, they all played really well) thinking how bone-tired I felt. My brain was cheese, my butt sore from the bleachers. How lovely it would be to change into sweats and curl up in front of Victoria before going to bed. I tried NOT thinking about all the plans I could accomplish if school got cancelled and I tried NOT wishing for the early call. If I got my hopes up and we still had school in the morning it would make me crabby. How stupid to get crabby over weather--over the sense of entitlement for a day off. No, I'd wake up at 5:30 Monday like any other day and hit the shower. School wouldn't be called off and that would be that. Somehow the chores would get squashed in between work and practices, making supper and shoveling.

Don't. Get. Your. Hopes. Up.

I've learned this lesson so many times. One Christmas when I was about 8 years old I received a large box wrapped in festive paper--my heart leapt and I tore into it, hoping for a soccer ball. Nope, Santa had brought me a strawberry-shaped carrying case for Strawberry Shortcake and her friends. My freshman year at college I waited my turn to look at the list of names and parts for a production of Bus Stop posted on the classroom door, breath held until I read the small part I auditioned for went to somebody else. My heart pounded when the cute boy I made eye contact with at a party walked in my direction--and passed me by to talk to the girl standing a few feet behind me. Two years ago I cast my ballot for the first woman president ... well, you know how that turned out.

Yesterday evening I switched the radio from the weather forecast to WAPL and let the sweet strains of Metallica carry my mind from silly dreams of sleeping in, catching up with the laundry, wearing sweatpants all day instead of work clothes. Emily Dickinson's metaphor is apt, birds are fragile creatures, easily blown off course and crushed. I've seen birds swoop fearlessly into our huge living room window and crash into the invisible glass wall. They land stunned and vulnerable on their backs, their wings flat against the patio bricks.

My phone's screen lit up on the seat beside me. I was halfway home, the sun hadn't quite set. I turned down the volume, swiped my thumb and heard the superintendent's voice explain "due to extreme winter weather..." Was the news sweeter because I'd deliberately not hoped for a snow day? Did I feel more pleased because I could curl up to watch Victoria knowing I would get to sleep in the next morning? Is a gift more excellent when one has no expectation to receive it?

Emily Dickinson's 314th poem ends even stranger than it begins. "It never asked a crumb -- of me." I'd love to discuss this with her. She's not wrong, but I'll argue that when hope gets crushed, the person hoping pays a price. Yet I agree with her view that hope helps us get through the worst bits, asking nothing in return.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - (314) By Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - That perches in the soul - And sings the tune without the words - And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard - And sore must be the storm - That could abash the little Bird That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land - And on the strangest Sea - Yet - never - in Extremity, It asked a crumb - of me.

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