A friend wrote of having a "winter soul" yesterday and I commented there are some who struggle with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) up north from the spate of gray and shortened days, while I struggle with it down south in the minute variation between seasons. But today it was cold enough for me to see my breath when I let the dog outside in the still dark morning. I breathed it in and breathed it out, watching the fog escape my lungs in the light from the neighbor's garage. I have always been happier in crisp, chilly days.
I had a few hours with another friend this past week. We've known one another since we were late teenagers, experienced a lot of life with one another and a lot more apart from one another, but we have always been friends. She was here so quick and gone so fast, but I sat across from her and breathed too. We have traded places with one another, New York to Texas, Texas to New York. She lives on a little plot of land, hanging her laundry out to dry now, like we used to dream of when we were younger and still mostly unaffected by the world and all the pains life brings with it. We know better now, but "Life is so good," she says and I believe her. The goodness of life is usually about our perspective and less about our circumstances. This is something we learn as we grow. I dropped her off after a few hours and I missed her as soon as we said goodbye.
This is how I feel about the seasons too, I think. They rush in so quick, we drink them in, they are so good and so short and then they are gone. There are some places I've lived when the winter is long, long and cold and grey and you have to start your car an hour before you drive, not to warm its engine but to melt the inch of ice it is covered under. I am not a winter soul on those days. I am a fickle lover when the seasons bring discomfort and angst and inconvenience. I only want the special days, the crisp apple scent, the warm spices, the smell of woodsmoke that permeates the air where I'm from, and the rows of bare black trees with branches like wet cowlicks, sticking up for miles, like lines of freshly bathed schoolboys. I want the wool mittens and the early evenings, the dark mornings. I love the dark mornings.
I have always heard that friendships are harder the older you get, sparer and more difficult to find. I know it is harder, too, because we are such a transient world. Everywhere can be home and therefore nowhere is. But I know folks who have always lived in the same state, the same county, and still find deep friendships difficult as they grow older. The older I grow the more I cling to those fewer friends, the ones I've had for ten or fifteen or twenty years. I want to hang onto the ones I love, the ones I know and who know me.
We are told to bloom where we're planted, but even blooms shrivel up and die someday. Nothing blooms forever on a single stem or trunk or branch. Blooms are for certain seasons and so are shrivels and so are voids. I always think it is some strange alchemy when a person perpetually blooms, some magic elixir that will fail them prematurely someday, a falsely inflated self. Death and breaking apart is a part of life too. In some ways, a more important part of life. Part of a scattering life. Seeds on a bloom are beautiful but scattered seeds from a shriveled blossom are sown for more beauty in another season.
My friend shared words from Annie Dillard in his writing about being a "winter soul" yesterday and I wanted to share them with you today, "If we are blinded by darkness, we are also blinded by light. When too much light falls on everything, a special terror results.” And then he went on to say, "I will not dismiss your summery faith, I will take you at your word that every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before. But in return I ask this—that you not cast off my sense of wintriness, my predestined affinity for Psalm 90, that our years die away like a murmur. If I do not stand and raise my hands it is not that I have betrayed the family of God, but rather that I am a darker optimist, an optimist of the evening. I crouch and rub my hands before faith’s embers, scanning the skies for revelatory constellations, for 'whom have I in heaven but thee.' Mine is a winter soul."
It is very tempting for Christians to assume that if one has the joy of the Lord they will be gregarious, full, sanguine, and abounding always. But I, like my friend, have found more of God in the autumns and winters than in the springs and summers of my faith. I have found more of friendship in the old ones than in the new ones. More of faith in its absence than in its presence. More of life in the discipline of God than in the gifts of men.
Some of us are in real autumns—the beautiful kind, abounding with color and crisp, and some of us are in the minute variation kind, the nearly changeless days that eek on for weeks, but both of us are dying in some ways. Dying to self, dying to dreams, dying to friendships, dying to goals. We're losing to gain or, perhaps, we're just losing. Maybe we have bloomed where we were planted, in full faith that the adage would always be true, but now we are shriveling, now we are dying, now we are falling to the damp earth, and now our seeds are scattering.
I don't know. I just wanted to say, today, to be patient with your season as I am trying to be patient with mine. It is not like another's season, same in name only, but not in circumstance. Maybe their autumn is stunning and yours is not. Maybe their winter is ice covered cars every morning and yours is hot cocoa and woodsmoke. Maybe their summer is now and yours was then. Maybe their spring is slow and yours is sudden. I don't know. But just be patient, I guess, with today.
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." James 1:2-4