People who complain about winter annoy me. I’ll admit it. In fact, I have admitted it, personally, to many of my friends throughout the season. And now I will say it to you of the blogosphere – get over it. Go outside. Sit inside. Go to Florida. Move to Florida. Do anything but lament about the weather – it’s so… unoriginal. It’s like bad elevator music playing in the background – so much snow, so cold, so long, can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait…
Not that I have always loved winter. I spent the first seventeen years of my life in Northern Vermont where winter is cold, dark, and long. I hated it, but I had no choice, and when the time came for me to choose, I left. I moved to the desert and worshiped the sun for five years before attempting to return. And this “attempt” was just that. I returned in May and was gone in December – down to the Florida and then out to California where I spent the rest of my twenties, basking in solar glory.
But now I’m back – less by choice then by a series of events that seem to have chosen me – but I’m back just the same. This is the place I am supposed to be, and I’m happy to have finally found it. And in finding it, I’ve discovered other gems that needed mining as well – such as – I never really hated winter, I just hated being a teenager.
I remember once, growing up, my mother told me her favorite month was February. I thought she was completely out of her mind, and proceeded to blast – in true adolescent fashion – February, and all its ruinous traits. But she went on to tell me that she saw it as a month of change – a month where she could begin to see the light coming back and begin to sense spring’s arrival. This coming from a woman who is lucky if “spring” makes it to her doorstep by the beginning of May. At the time, I’m sure I snarled some barely discernible reply and returned to the infernal regions of my winter gloom, but now I can finally see the light – quite literally – of which she spoke.
And, frankly, isn’t that a nicer place to be? It is true that not all of us are given a choice concerning where we want to live – what with finances and familial obligations and the like… But all of us have the choice of how we will perceive things – of how much we will enjoy our lives – and I find it really disheartening that so many people chose despondency over joy. (Using poor old winter – or rain, or heat – as their excuse)
It’s true that we must have moments of despair in our lives and that sometimes these come in the winter. The worst winter in my recent memory was three years ago, when we had just moved to the valley. We – Emerson especially – were all trying to adjust to everything being new and a bit foreign, we were all sick for two months straight, Matt was commuting two hours – one way – to work, and the time he wasn’t working he was spending in and out of hospitals with his mother, who was dying of cancer. And then she moved onward… and we remained fixed in our anguish and sorrow. It was a dark time. Would it have been less dark in the summer? I doubt it. For us, it didn’t just magically disappear when the sun came out and flowers started to bloom. The only passageway was time.
Can’t wait, can’t wait… And in our lives, when time is so precious, why are we always trying to rush through things so fast? In Greek and Welsh myths, winter is caused by young maidens being kidnapped into the netherworld, and spring arrives as they are freed. In these cultures, as in many, winter represents a moral weakness, an evil, a dark being that must be overcome, but in no culture is winter ignored. There is no story that tells us to lie in our beds and whine.
Winter is a time of action, albeit subtle action. It’s a time of going through the challenges that must be faced; of digging deep into the wells of our character and seeing what we find. It’s not a time for the weak, or for the empty. It is a time of great change – although this change is often invisible – of great undercurrents that carry us into spring as different creatures than we were before winter started. The light of spring can only hold meaning if it has its dark counterpart. We can’t awaken if we never slept…
Or as the 13th century Persian poet Sa’di wrote, “The true morning will not come, until the Yalda night is gone.”
Anyway… If I am complaining about complainers, I need to put myself squarely in my own fire. I complain about winter too – but on the other end of the spectrum. No snow until after Christmas! A few weeks of very cold weather and a month of snow! You call that winter? And then we move to February and already the snow has turned to rain and slush, the days are getting lighter and warmer, and somehow I feel that winter has passed me by again.
So now it’s time for me to accept that winter is coming to an end, and I didn’t get the chance to do a lot of the things I wanted to. We never made a snowman. We never went snow-shoeing, or cut out paper snowflakes to hang in the windows. Emerson and I waited in line at the ski sale for two hours to buy skis we never used.
But winter gave us many unexpected gifts as well. Hours and hours and days and days spent sledding. (We don’t really have a usable sledding hill in our yard because of all the trees, but because of the enormous snowbanks, we were able to have a starting point from which to create a long and winding trail through the woods that gave us thrills we never thought possible!) Winter walks and ice-skating, and many hours of shoveling – which was great exercise and meditation for me. A chilly weekend at the beach, where the kids – dressed in wool pants and winter boots – saw no reason not to go wading in a tide-pool up to their wastes.
Just as the people who complain about cold and snow need to reconcile with winter, so must I. Winter comes and goes as it pleases, and I need to roll with the ebb and flow of the seasons just like everyone else. And as I – or we – try to configure reality with our expectations, the kids just keep on playing – treating each day as a new gift to be opened with glee. The slushy rain that washes my snow away is a river on which to sail a boat.
Skiing is OK, but nothing beats hot chocolate and a Zamboni…