I am a New Englander. A New Englander is someone who not only survives the unforgiving winters of the Northeast but also relishes the struggle. Our powers grow with every heave of the shovel, every scrape of the windshield and every pothole dodged. We wait for the elevator with mascara running down our faces. We wear our smears with pride. Our war paint. A proud symbol of our tribe – The New Englanders.
I exit the train station with a pack of fellow commuters. On the escalator we secure our hats, pull up our gloves, rewrap our scarves and put our game faces on. Bring it door. Let’s see if you brought your “A” game today. I push open the door. Shit. Once again I have under estimated my opponent.
Our pack shuffles along the ice lined sidewalk. I observe my pack and their shuffles. You can tell how long someone has lived in New England by his or her shuffle ability. This is a green group.
The greenie in the lead stops abruptly. A gust of wind shoots us with pellets of an icy mix and the greenies all shield their faces. A sure sign of weakness. I use their pitiful distraction to gain the lead and notice a pack heading in our direction. Their shuffle is worthy. They do not shield their faces. What has this pack of professional New Englanders retreating?
“A mound,” the leader advises as she leads her pack into the busy street to walk along side the passing cars. My pack of greenies gasp in horror.
“A mound?” A male pack member questions with his British or Aussie accent. He is an amateur grossly underdressed in only a suit coat and dress shoes.
“A mound of snow. We can’t get through,” declares the original pack leader determined to regain command. She turns with a hand wave for the pack to follow her into the car filled street. I continue down the sidewalk, parallel to the pack. The assumed leader yells over the honking horns and blustery winds. “Didn’t you hear me? There’s a mound!”
And sure enough, the mound appears before me. I stare at the mound. I needed to see it. It’s a mound all right. I laugh at how something so insignificant can cause so many people to alter their lives. Change their paths.
I spin around to begin my retreat when I come face to face with a man. Although his scarf hides his mouth, the lines of his eyes confirm he is smiling. I give him my smile lines in return.
“A mound.” I gesture behind me.
“I know. I need to see it,” he responds. I nod in agreement and we shuffle past each other with a skilled precision limited only to the New England born. Once we have switched our positions, our eyes meet brimming with respect for each other. A gust of sleet pelts our faces yet we hold our ground, our eyes fixated. Curiosity? Attraction? Frozen eyelashes?
We say our goodbyes and shuffle on. His path leading him to the mound and mine to the city street detour. As I retreat, I see a fresh pack heading in my direction. The leader is a professional shuffler. Should I tell them about the mound? No. Who am I to change their paths? Let them confront it. Let them choose.
They shuffle past me and the leader gives me a respectful glace. I turn and face the busy street, checking for cars when I hear a scarf muffled voice.
“You didn’t warn them?” I turn to find the man. The man who needed to see it.
“They need to see it,” I reply.
He smiles and motions for me to take the lead. I graciously accept. Our feet shuffle in unison, our heads held high and our hearts filled with anticipation and possibility. We didn’t follow the pack. Our paths were altered by our own accord. Altered by our need to see it. See the mound.