On a cold March day, Mack is working from his home office as icy rain builds up a slippery layer outside. He reflects on the calming qualities of nature, thinking that the beauty of the snow-covered world is almost enough to lift The Great Sadness.
The numbness that Mack feels as a result of the loss of his daughter is somewhat self-protective in that it keeps the memory of her loss alive. However, it also keeps him from feeling positive emotions and noticing the good things in life like the beauty of a winter day.
Knocking ice from the mailbox, Mack finds only a single envelope inside. It is unstamped and contains a simple message. The letter writer says that he has missed Mack and that he will be at the shack next weekend if Mack wants to meet up. It is signed simply “Papa.” Wondering if the letter is a prank, Mack feels angry and unsettled.
Mack is deeply unsettled by a letter that appears to be from God because he pictures God as being aloof and far-removed from his day-to-day concerns, and also because he harbors anger at God for allowing what happened to Missy. Rather than attributing such a message to divine intervention, Mack assumes it is the product of human cruelty. He does not trust in God’s closeness.
As he is making his way back from the mailbox, Mack slips on an icy patch of driveway. He falls backwards and skids along the ice, tearing open a gash in the back of his head. Inside, Mack cleans and dresses the wound as best he can, feeling a throbbing pain and hoping that his wife Nan, a registered nurse, will be home soon.
Mack has a close relationship with his family, but still, he tends to keep to himself and doesn’t reach out to others for help, even when he is in distress, like when he falls in the driveway. Mack has difficulty opening up to others, which can sometimes keep him from getting the support that he needs.
Unable to forget about the note, Mack calls the post office and finds out, to his surprise, that the mail has not yet been delivered to his home. Groggy from his wound, he falls asleep by the phone for a few hours before being awakened by a call from Nan. Nan is with their daughter Kate at her sister’s house, and says she’ll stay the night there since it’s too icy to drive home. Nan is worried about getting through to Kate. She says she’s been praying to Papa—her favorite nickname for God—for ideas about how to get through to her, but it feels like he isn’t listening. Mack feels a lingering sense of confusion and pain about the note. He curls up on the sofa to watch some news, but soon falls asleep.
Unlike Mack, Nan thinks of God as being an accessible, benevolent figure in her life—more of a friend or father figure than a distant ruler. Nan recognizes that it is possible to have a direct and comfortable relationship with God, as demonstrated by her nickname for him, Papa, Also unlike Mack, she believes that God is directly interested in the affairs of humans and will turn to him for advice (even though it can feel hard to get through to him).