Lest Ye Be Judged

O, we of little faith! We have brought this upon ourselves. Had we but faith the size of a mustard seed, we could tell this weather system to pass over us, and it would.

Then again, if we really hate snow so much, what business have we dwelling in Minnesota?

The radio was abuzz on the morning commute: snow would start by 9 a.m. and last through the day. At noon, the grey skies were portentous but still — no solitary flake drifting earthward, much less the white blanketing predicted. I sat in my office, revising, when a familiar sound penetrated the window: a persistent, patterned echo, like a stadium vendor practicing in empty stands. The street preacher.

I look out the window. He stands before Northrop Auditorium, facing the Mall, in a dark coat, gloves and stocking cap, right hand clasped sincerely to his breast, left hand pointing skyward, a living icon of the north, writ in wool and windburned flesh instead of water and crushed stone. I’ve heard him before — he shouts salvation with the fire and brimstone of one saved and relentlessly saving, with the rhythm of a carnival barker. Two fellows stand a step or two behind him, similarly dressed. They are always behind him, always similarly dressed. Are they security, or there to work the crowd? I don’t know — none gather, and I’ve never seen anyone stop to talk or raise a question. Perhaps they put him up to it.

Ah, well. It’s not the first time he’s preached his sermon here. Students hurry past, and I return to my computer.

Minute pass, but not many. Through the window, the light changes, and I look out to a haze of snow blurring grey sky and ground. The preacher shouts, his hand raised to the heavens as if in vindication. I hear only the echoes and imagine the words: Ye sinners, the Lord thy God shall bury thee and thy iniquities! He shall cleanse thy broken world; He shall blanket thy blackest sin in the pure white of salvation!

The wind picks up as he rails. Pedestrians, hatted, hooded and hunched, hustle past without looking up. In a few moments, the Mall is empty, save a few last straggling souls. Then there are none. His voice resounds in the stony silence. He shakes his fist at the skies.

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