This is a cozy kind of day, watching the snow drift down, knowing that I don’t have to go anywhere. It reminds me of my childhood in Denver when it seemed to snow more, although as soon as the sun came out, the melting started. The melting part is the same, but we don’t have as many heavy snow storms. However, this snow has continued for two days now.
Back when I was a teacher, snowy days like this always put me on a wait and watch for “Snow Day!” As a child I only remember one snow day–or maybe it was two days long. It happened in April no less! Otherwise we slogged on to school no matter what. It probably would have stayed that way if Denver hadn’t grown into a much larger city. Now a heavy snow causes problems for the city’s snow removal and emergency responders to the point that we are advised to keep off the streets when we have heavy snow. Still, the wait and watch begins for teachers, wondering if a snow day will be called.
Another reason I have been enjoying the snow has been the book I’m reading about Darwin and his family life. It is the basis for the new movie, “Creation.” The book was written by Darwin’s great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes, who is also the great-grandnephew of the British economist John Maynard Keynes. His also related to the composer Ralph Vaughn Williams. Pretty good credentials! The book is titled Darwin, His Daughter and Human Evolution (originally called Annie’s Box). The box referred to is his daughter’s writing box, an essential item for the well-equipped young lady of the 19th century. After finding this box in amongst the attic items of his family, he was compelled to research his contents and the relationship between Darwin and his daughter, Annie.
The book is like a window into life in mid-19th century Britain as well as the family life of Darwin. He was essentially a family man and enjoyed his children immensely. The death of his 10-year-old daughter, Annie, due to tuberculosis, caused him to rethink his views on religion and an unbridgeable philosophical break with his wife, Emma.
Even before Annie’s death, Darwin wrestled with his belief in God and religious dogma. He was a doubter from his youth and this was reinforced as he pondered his scientific discoveries. He could not retain his belief in God as a master designer after tracing the evolution of several animal groups. Even more, he could not reconcile illness, tragedy and the suffering death of a child with the so-called comforting words, “It is God’s will.” He found nature to be both beautiful and cruel.
In my own life, these have been the same questions I have pondered. For a long time I felt a traitor to my childhood and family faith. I tried very hard to hold on to it, but both life and experience have destroyed any comfort I could find in religious platitudes. In Darwin’s time, the religious community in Britain was in an uproar–what was termed rational thinking vs church and religious leaders. Charles and Emma had grown up in Dissenter families, but Emma never abandoned her faith. She wanted the assurance she would see her loved ones in the next life and believed that she would never see Charles because his separation from God was a sin.
I look forward to snuggling down to read on a snowy night–becoming a fly on the wall of a 19th century family and their universal struggles. Much is different, but even more is universal.