My daughter and I watched the snow fall. It had been falling all morning, silently, and had lain thick.
“By now,” Maddie said, “there are probably as many snowflakes out there are there are years until the end of the univese.”
And, just like that, she reminded me of a story.
The story nestles within the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, alongside the crazy helicopter sketches and whole pages of mirror-writing. So, from the pages of Da Vinci’s notebook, elaborated by the fancy of a woman from Middle England, here is a story for the dawn of a year.
Let me take you to Everest.
Indeed, to its highest point, where man has strived to climb, down on which the tourists crane their necks from chartered planes, and untouched desolate paradise.
And home to snowflakes.
Up there, at the farthest reach of man’s frail grasp, millions upon millions of snowflakes, each a microscopic miracle, congregate. And on the edge of the peak sat one such flake, looking down in awe and wonder at the scene before it.
And in this great place of beauty, the snowflake felt utterly insignificant.
For a while, as he surveyed the great glaciers which cover the base of the mountain, he marvelled. What would it be like, he thought, to be a powerful glacier, announcing to climbers that they had arrived at this king of all mountains?
On a nearby part of the mountain a great snow plume – an airborne snow stream – rose up and stretched off into the distance for miles and miles, a huge ethereal snow-ghost which seemed to have a lofty purpose as it moved about the mountain. Now there is beauty and mystery, thought the little snowflake. To be some great snow-serpent at the whim of a jet stream, to attract the attention of astronauts: that is something else.
And then his attention came to rest down below in the great ice Valley of Silence. Without a whisper of wind the heat there is overpowering to those who travel through.To be such a paradox in one of the coldest and least hospitable places on earth! Now that was originality at its best!
And as he marvelled, the tiny snowflake thought: well, why am I here at the top? These other great beings will think me incredibly vain, for I am insignificant and yet here, I have the highest point of all.
And so he threw himself off, in a bid to find a place more suitable to his tiny status.
And the snowflake tumbled down, and collected others.
And as he rolled he became very large indeed, so that by the time he reached the lower reaches of the mountain he was the size of a hill, and became an avalanche.
So that when he had settled, he was beneath a great formation of snow. He guaranteed himself long life: and that Spring he was the very last snowflake to melt.
“This is said,” writes Da Vinci, “for those who, humbling themselves, become exalted.” For me: it is a fanfare in ice for the tiniest of us. We have a purpose. And a destiny.
And it can change, irrevocably, in the blink of an eye.