My sweet neighbor recently put a copy of: Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May in my hands. It’s a personal narrative that encourages us to reconsider and sink our numb fingers deep into the seasons of “winter” that inevitably frost the windowpanes of our lives. The author describes wintering as “a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider” (10). While wintering can be brought on from any number of life events, May describes it as “usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful” (11).
On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I were quietly toasting to the new year at home, and I asked him what his hopes were for 2022. His answer was not optimistic or cheerful. Instead, it was hard, as it brought up the staggering diagnosis he received last spring and the major grief and loss we’ve been enduring for years now but that finally came to a dream-crushing reality in September. His answer was HARD…but it was real.
Do you know how I reacted? I cried fat tears into my wine glass. I couldn’t look at him. I’m ashamed to say that I even felt resentful. I felt all the raw emotions from this past year well up inside me, and I didn’t know where to put them. I realized I had needed him to give me a Hallmark answer. Why? Because to be reminded of the continuation of our winter into the new year meant that singing Auld Lang Syne wouldn’t instantly sweep away the snow and give us the spring we so desperately need. Because I didn’t see how I could possibly spend another minute after midnight in the frozen tundra we’ve had to traverse. I chose to ignore the idea that winter is “an open invitation to transition into a more sustainable life and wrest back control over the chaos” that has threatened to consume us.
The next morning’s final chapter changed my perspective. When I read that May’s resilience through seasons of wintering comes from learning and preparing and from her awareness of the very cyclical nature of wintering, a lightbulb flickered in my brain. We tend to think of the metaphorical winters and summers in our lives in a linear sense. We can mistakenly take on the notion that, somehow, it is possible to reach a pinnacle of safety that keeps us out of harm’s way – that we can one day be successful or strong enough to no longer have to brave winter.
On New Year’s Eve, I bought into that illusion, and it brought me only more pain and caused me to selfishly turn away from that of my husband. As a military spouse, it can be so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that “resilience” equates to fighting anything that threatens our stability. That destructive mindset can prevent us from accepting what is present in our lives and from growing through the cold times. May gives us an alternative picture of resilience through wintering:
When I started feeling the drag of winter, I began to treat myself like a favored child: with kindness and love. I assumed my needs were reasonable and that my feelings were signals of something important. I kept myself well-fed and made sure I was getting enough sleep. I took myself for walks in the fresh air and spent time doing things that soothed me. I asked myself: What is this winter all about? I asked myself: What change is coming?
I have spent this first week of the new year still aching from the wounds of the last, but, as the winter winds both literally and figuratively howl around us, I am going to stop fighting it and allow our winter season to do what winter does best: clear out the old, make the activity go dormant, rest, focus inward on renewal, and prepare for reemergence on the other side.
As you go into this new year, I would encourage you to reflect on the winters you have experienced or are currently walking through. What insight have you gained? What battle scars remind you that there will be a tomorrow? I asked VSP’s own Amy and Lea to share their wintering stories with you below. We hope our words bring you a sense of promise as we all stand in community, like tough birds lining power lines together for warmth. You’re in good company here.