The weight of a snowflake

by reader noni mausa


I was taught, by example, how to vote. My parents got up in the
morning and dressed as though for church. The day was somehow quieter
than other days, even in a household with five kids.

We drove to the polling site and while one parent went in to vote, the
other would ride herd on us in the car, but it never took much effort
to keep us quiet. It was voting day.

Formal, sober, quietly determined, everyone in my hometown migrated to
the polls, and we kids were taught that the actual voting was both a
purely personal choice, and a secret. The secret might be shared, but
it was uncouth to ask “How did you vote?”

It was never said outright, I think, but we were shown that the vote
was sacred: “set apart for a special purpose”. My parents treasured
their vote, it was at once a right, and a privilege, and an

To add one voice to the larger voice of the nation, and together say
in some mystical way what path the nation will take, is in its own way
a religious action, full of faith and determination and patience in
the face of a flurry of mere arithmetic.

To choose not to vote is an act of negligence or even despair – both
of them equally undermine our shared nation.

I vote for meat on my neighbour’s plate, not mine. For the health of
my neighbour’s children, the peace of our streets, the knowledge in
our libraries and the significance and beauty of our images and songs.
I vote for the strength of the whole, not the benefit of one walled
garden at the cost of a wilderness outside.

Arithmetic is the enemy of the vote. The vote is more than a grain of
sand on a scale, it is an action in which citizens make themselves
manifest as a part of the whole. To neglect it is to become a
political ghost, moving voiceless through the world.

An old woman who told stories, who was prisoner of the Nazis, who left
her Dutch home for a new home and language and land, told this story:

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a mouse asked a wild dove.

“Nothing more than nothing,” the dove answered.

“In that case I must tell you a marvelous story,” the mouse said.
“I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to
snow. Not heavily, not a raging blizzard, no — just like in a dream
without any violence the snow silently fell.

Since I had time, I counted the snowflakes setting on the twigs
and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952 when the
next snowflake dropped onto the branch – “nothing more than nothing”
as you say – the branch broke off.”

Having said that the mouse went away.


From here: Noni Mausa