Down from the soft gray clouds the snowflakes fall, tumbling and turning and righting themselves, tumbling again, then drawing near and drifting apart — a miracle of delicacy, fragility and impermanence.

Like faces in a distant crowd, each snowflake possesses the greatest individuality, though hidden from sight. And the hands that cup the snow, and the eyes that look down and see the snow, belong to someone whose life has infinite value because he or she is unique, like no other in the world.

But now the word “snowflake” has taken on a new meaning in our language, one used by conservatives to mock and disparage young people. It is used to cast a slur on those who are perceived to be overly sensitive or who need to be coddled. For example, the college students who wept after hearing the results of the presidential election.

The word “snowflake” itself is gentle, but it contains a stinging malice. Perhaps those who hurl the insult at youth unconsciously protest the many pains and disappointments of adult life. In the end, those who use the word hurt themselves more than they hurt their intended victim because their inner wounds remain unnoticed and unhealed. If their cold hearts could be warmed by seeing the shortness and uncertainty of all human life, their contempt would surely melt away.

A catalogue of photographs of snowflakes runs many hundreds of pages, and with each turn of the page, the reader sees a picture of astonishing beauty and complexity. There is no such picture gallery of man because the variety of individual types has no limit. And unlike the snowflake, a living soul is present in each, enabling the capacity for movement and speech, for laughter and joy, and for pain and suffering.

Measured on the scale of eternity, the life of man is not much longer than the life of a snowflake, which after being tossed here and there by the wind, comes to rest on a branch and melts, yielding its form back to the sky from whence it came.

Just like people, some are born strong and beautiful. Others are given humbler forms, and some are born broken. Some float down softly, coming to rest on strong and good branches, where they shine under a warm sun. Others are seized by the cold, gruff hands of a stormy wind and carried an unknown distance. There they are trampled into the dirt and the mud, then brushed off a shoe with contempt.

If one objects that people, unlike snowflakes, have the power to make their own way through life and guide their own destiny, let him recall that none of us would leave our pleasant home on a shining branch if we knew that the dirt, the gutter and the mud were our final destination.

Regarding the brevity and precariousness of all human existence, the missionary doctor and theologian Albert Schweitzer offered the wisest of sayings. He said we should always treat our loved ones as if they had temporarily returned from the dead. We can take his sage advice to heart, and even improve on it a bit. We should treat each person we meet as one who, like us, has been given gift of life, albeit temporarily, and shares an existence with us in a world we will all soon depart. And this pertains to our closest loved ones and to our worst enemies as well.

For this reason, let us disparage no one. This admonition goes out especially to the comfortable conservative, to the honored and respected churchgoer, to the well-dressed man-about-town, to the denizens of high society and to all who imagine themselves more worthy of love than the scraggly and tattooed demonstrator, the pot smoker, the panhandler, the bearded professor, or the liberal “snowflake” who has lost his or her way.

Fritz Spencer of Old Town is the former editor of the Christian Civic League RECORD.