Roses in the Winter

john tappenI remember standing on the L train on a Monday afternoon 10 years ago. I was on my way home from school and everyone else was on their way home from work. The train was packed. But on one of the coldest days of the year, after I walked six blocks against the most piercingly cold wind, I didn’t mind being in a cart brimming with vexed commuters because at least I was warm.

After the doors closed at Union Square a man appeared from the back of the train.

“Attention ladies and gentlemen!”

He was holding a trumpet.

His announcement was met with groans. He took a breath, blew into his trumpet and out came a  loud and obnoxious sceech. He had managed to put the experience of being on a rush hour subway in New York City into music — or at least to sounds: powerfully unpleasant and just an ugly mess. People were pissed. But he was relentless. “I will stop if you give me money,” he said before taking another deep breath and letting out another fart noise. It was so innovative. Hysterical.

Most suffered for only a stop before they   got off. I was able to sit, one of three people left.

On cold and gloomy winter days like today, I like to think about that experience. Sometimes the winter gets me down. This time of year seems cluttered and dank. While I’m normally alive, ready to find fun, the winter has me believing it’s easier to stay inside, away from the cold and chaos. I end up feeling slothful.

I like to think the story of the trumpet man on the train exemplifies the craziness that can come from a frigid winter and cabin fever. It made me laugh and breathe a sigh of relief . I was rattled by sixth grade, new classmates and an hour long commute.

And now I’m feeling the pressure of my last semester of college and it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. I sit through lectures where teachers preach how vital it is to be on top of the next technological trend. They tell me how great it is for my professional career that I’m on Twitter.

But technology is constantly fleeting. Bits and pieces of ourselves get lost into the black hole of the Internet every day and my text messages from months ago automatically delete themselves. But a hand-written letter is forever.

I look around my bedroom and I see the  desk and shelves that my dad and I built. It’s  filled with books, CDs and autographed baseballs three-quarters to the ceiling. There’s the queen-sized bed and an old sturdy dresser. All these heavy things that stay in place were an attempt to anchor myself, for at least a year, because there isn’t a bedroom for me back home. But they’re just pieces of furniture.

It’s said that God gave us our memory so that we might have roses in the winter.

Last month I went to Texas to visit my grandmother. The day I left, I asked her when she became a coffee drinker. I was interested because coffee used to be one of my favorite small pleasures, until I gave it up in favor of tea and not making myself anxious. When I mentioned tea, she smiled and fondly recalled when her grandparents would give her what they called “hot water tea” when she was sick. It only contained “the best parts of tea” — boiling water, lots of sugar and cream. I’m realizing that it’s the little things, the trimmings of life that are important.

There’s something comforting about a warm drink, a letter, the company of people that bring you joy and a phone call to your grandmother even if she can only find the breath to speak for a few minutes.

I hope that when I grow old I can look back and bring the little things to the foreground of my memory with that much vivacity. I hope I can remember what’s important, like sitting in a rocking chair at the end of a wrap around porch, at 2021 Border Street in Marshall, TX, watching the rainfall drop from the overhang with a cup of hot water tea.