“In the midst of winter I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
– Alber Camus
A few weeks ago, after several weeks of punishing wind and sub-zero temperatures, during which everyone in my community had all holed up in our warm homes like hibernating bears, we were finally blessed with one glorious day of sunny, 60-degree weather.
Everyone came out to take it in. Some walked their dogs, some raked the leftover leaves from last fall, some picked up the fallen sticks and bits of trash deposited by the pesky winds. Some opened all of their windows and tried to bring the outside in.
Some, like my daughter, put on a pair of sunglasses and a tank top, pulled a chair out to the middle of the lawn and simply sat there, absorbing light and warmth and stockpiling Vitamin D.
On one especially cold day when he was three, my son, Sam, remarked: “I’m cold up to the top of myself.” On this day we were “warm up to the top of ourselves” and we were reveling in it.
In the middle of summer, when one warm, sunny day comes right after another, I’m embarrassed to say that I rarely appreciate any of them. It’s only when such a day appears suddenly and surprisingly in the middle of the cold and grey of winter that I sit up and take good notice, and am truly grateful.
This is because I really need these odd warm days to remind me of the ever-recurring, invincible summer season to come.
So it is, I think, with the emotional winters of our lives. When we’ve experienced a significant loss or are in the middle of a down time, it’s natural and healthy to feel all sorts of what we usually think of as “bad” feelings.
Sadness, confusion, anger, loneliness, even depression – these and other down feelings, are uncomfortable to experience, sometimes even excruciatingly so (hence, the negative label). But they are actually an integral part of the process of life, and must have their expression if we’re to move through this down time and into what’s next.
But we can’t engage in this hard feeling work all the time, every minute of every day. We need breaks from this process in order to be able to sustain the effort over time and, eventually, heal from our pain.
We need an occasional moment of summer to break up the monotony of dark, cold days. Because if we stay too deep in this emotional winter, if we sink so deeply into depression, it seems as though it will be all we will ever know, and we can easily despair.
Luckily, our lives always provide us with these moments of relief, in the same way that Mother Nature provides the occasional sunny, warm respite from an otherwise grueling, soul-sucking winter.
The quiet beauty of a mountain vista
The soft touch of a child
Unexpected laughter at a small thing
These are all sunny, warm interruptions that can offer us a real hiatus from our sadness. They can even sustain us through the crappy times, if we let them. The hard thing, but the thing we must do, is to notice and take advantage of these reprieves, however brief or inconsequential they seem, and allow them to impact our lives, to make us “warm up to the top of ourselves,” even if only for a moment.
So that we are able – even in the midst of a time of real distress, heartache or depression – to feel tangible warmth and light, and be reminded of the deeper summer to come, a time when we will reenter our life with gratitude (and, yes, joy), clean up the trash, and fully reconnect with the world.
What about you? In the midst of an emotional winter, have you been able to notice any moments of warmth and light? If you have, take a moment to honor them in a comment below.
And, if this post got you thinking, you might also like these on How My Dog Taught Me to Live in the Moment and Travelling at the Speed of Life.