James Lileks
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Print this out, bookmark it, commit it to memory and set a reminder in your calendar to revisit it in July. It will seem like a dispatch from another era.

We are past the big monster storm that dumped a thick sodden quilt on the land last weekend, but there's a lesson we have to remember: We are hardy folk. Perhaps you didn't have to shovel after the snow, but those of us who have pavement to clear woke up on Monday and revved up the snowblower.

My puny machine immediately balked and choked like an infant fed a cup of mashed spinach. That was fair; it's a snowblower, not a slush blower. I pushed it into the drift, and it was like trying to eat a thick, wet pillow with your dentures out.

But it had to be done! Otherwise it would melt and turn to ice, and because my sidewalk goes downhill, the dogwalkers would slip and crack cranium and coccyx, pulled down the walk by the dog on the leash. I could either A) stand at the window and film it, set it to "Yakety Sax," slam it up on Twitter and go viral, or B) complete my civic obligation.

Or both! OK, start blowing.

Then the rain started. I looked up to the heavens, like Job around the sixth indignity: "Really?" But I decided to sing instead. "I'm blowin' in the rain / Just blowin' in the rain / My Toro, she's struggling / My back has a strain."

Eventually I finished, and the walk was clear for all the pedestrians, who would number zero for the next six hours. As I struggled to remove my boots, I had a thought, an ancestral notion, suddenly rise unbidden, familiar to people of my generation.

It wasn't fun, but it builds character.

So we heard our dads say, sometimes with a sarcastic smile after you'd come in exhausted and cold. Builds character. Ergo, you are better for having done that and will know in days to come that you can willingly engage adversity and difficult labor.

But is it true? Sure, what if we examined the biographies of all the state's scoundrels and miscreants, and found that not one ever shoveled after a deep dump? What if we barred from public office anyone who was capable of driving a two-stroke snowblower into a 3-foot drift, but paid someone else to do it? And let's not even get into the matter of moving that widowmaker snow with a shovel, which character-wise is practically equivalent to budging your way to the front of the first landing craft at Normandy.

I mentioned above that you should consult this column in the middle of glorious summertime. Why? So you can remind yourself that winter is coming, again, and do the whole carpe-diem thing, possibly gamboling about the lawn strewing petals and singing, or, if you are Scandinavian, humming quietly and tapping your toe. Or you can find some summer analogue that builds character.


Dig up a stump. It's hard, the roots hate you, extend down a mile and are made of metal cable. Plus you're dirty. Substantial character boost. Bonus if there are disgusting bugs.

Use an edger to trim the grass by the sidewalk. This is just giving the lawn a pedicure. No character added.

Mowing the lawn when you know there's no cold beer in the fridge. Character built.

Weed-pulling. Some character built. Weed-pulling with your teeth. Better.

Note: If we get one more big storm, and you have to shovel in April, you will have exceeded your character-building for the next two quarters. Take the summer off.