Friends, if you know me, it is no secret that winter and I are not friends. Winter came hard this year, and it had a death grip. It refused to let go. I’ve been teaching for a decade, and while there was the odd freak ice storm April 1st here and there that gave us a snow day because the roads were just too slippery, I’ve never had one April 16th. Two weeks ago, that’s all it was. Two weeks ago winter got its final battle cry in before it finally started to let go, and even then, it didn’t immediately release its grip. We hung on in the very low single digits for almost another week.
But today, all of a sudden, it was 26 degrees, and the sun shone brilliantly. The birds are chirping, the trees are finally thinking it might be safe to try to grow some leaves. Barbecues are firing up, lawns are growing, I’ve had my bike out twice, I read in the hammock until I get cold, and I drove all the way home from work this afternoon with my arm out the driver’s side window. Spring is here. Arguably we may have jumped it and gone right to summer, but in my corner of the earth it isn’t really summer without 90% humidity, so we aren’t there yet.
There are many things I love about summer — the barbecues, the fires, the fireworks, the hammocks, the HEAT, the seasonal fruit (I could live off of peaches, concord grapes, strawberries, pears, and watermelon — and I nearly do for the whole summer, because for ten months at a time these things are imported from either America or Mexico because it’s too frigid to grow them here, and they’re just. not. the. same.)…. the BEACH. This girl’s feet were made to dig into sand, and while it’s not the nicest water, you’ll find me on the shores of Lake Erie at any given opportunity. I am itching for it. This winter felt so long in so many ways, and I am longing for beaches, long days, parties and barbecues and fires… all of it. My bare feet won’t be in a real pair of shoes again until October at least, you have my word (except to play volleyball or ride my bike).
But I’ve been in a season that has perpetually felt like winter for a long time — it’s been gloomy and dark and grey. I’ve heard it referred to as “Soul Winter,” and at this point I don’t think I have any other words for it. This may have less intrinsic meaning for those who love snow and crisp, cold mornings. For those who thrive on the chill of Arctic air coming into your lungs and who live to hit the slopes and play in powder. I am not one of those people.
What I personally experience after a long winter, I feel like my soul has been experiencing for a little over a year now, and it’s been very hard to put words to it because I don’t like to be still. I don’t like to reflect on my feelings, sit with my thoughts, or face my fears. I don’t enjoy being alone, and seeing as I live alone, you can imagine the frenetic pace that this would create for my life. Last Easter I came to a place where I think my soul had finally had enough. I tell myself that the ordeal was precipitated by too much caffeine, and I’m sure that that didn’t help, but what I know that I learned about myself in the aftermath is that I can’t manage the pace I’ve been living at…. but I haven’t done anything about it.
Because to sit with my feelings and face them is scary. And to be alone, and still, and silent…. it means I have to. And I don’t like that. I can’t honestly remember the last time I really sat in silence. Sure, I tell myself there are times when I’m silent — if I clean the house with no music on, that’s pretty silent. When I lay in the hammock reading, that’s pretty silent. But I was out there about half an hour ago, and that’s what prompted me to come in here and write. It was silent for about two minutes. There was peace and stillness and calm, and I laid in the hammock and didn’t even open the book. I just basked in the silence. The people around me might be right — I might need it more than I know. But it didn’t take long before a motorcycle ripped down the street, my dog barked at the neighbour’s cat for being in her line of vision, and my neighbours came out to their porch to grill their dinner, turning on their radio and cranking some cheesy 90s pop music. There went my silence. And then I remembered that the beach, though I love it so deeply, isn’t much better, unless you go when it isn’t busy at all (aka on a weekday morning before school has let out) — because kids run around and screech while they love every second, and teenagers show up with their music pumping, and people fill in all around my sanctuary of space. None of this is inherently bad, but if it’s silence I’m looking for, a public beach at a Provincial Park is not likely going to be where I find it. If I’m being honest, I think the last time I let myself be alone, and silent, and just sit — somewhere I didn’t have my phone and I couldn’t hear other people or commotion — it had to have been last summer. My parents live at a retreat centre at the beginning of the Rocky Mountains. I just can’t even. So last July sometime, I parked myself in the gazebo and sat alone and thought….. and I honestly can’t remember letting myself do it since.
One day, by myself, I hiked my way down to the river and I let my feet sit in frigid glacier water while I listened to only birds. That day, I got time to process my feelings and my thoughts.
But the scary thing is, I haven’t really done it since. Sure, I’ve had thoughts pop into my head, but I’ve shoved them away. I read The Best Yes last winter. I’ve listened to Podcasts and Audio Books. I heard all the things about learning to say no and carving out space for my soul to breathe. But I’m learning something I already knew. There’s a dramatic difference between hearing and listening, between being aware and letting something sink down in deep.
I don’t want to talk about things that aren’t fun, and I don’t want to process them. At best, I may process them with my therapist, because she has a unique ability to stop me from catastrophizing, but if I process them on my own, there’s no one to stop me, and the what ifs and the but what abouts will all come in a rush.
I was hesitant to even sit down and write this. It’s daunting. But I haven’t even really written anything more than book reviews since last winter either, because I process when I write. I often don’t know what I think about something until I’ve written it down. So a healthier version of me would be blogging or journaling all. the. time… But I’m not. I keep the free book train rolling by writing reviews, but otherwise I tend to shove post ideas to the depths of my soul too.
I don’t know what’s different about today. I’m reading Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect, which, while so beautifully written as to make it a very easy read in theory, is impacting me so deeply that I can only take it in small chunks. I’d borrowed the book from a friend, and two chapters in I wanted to write all over it SO BADLY because I just know this will be a book I read again. I don’t have many of those, but I’ll come back to this. And like it was meant to be, the next day, I found it in beautiful, pristine, hard-cover condition at a used book sale for 2.50. I gave my friend back her copy and mine is now well loved and irreparably damaged, all at the same time.
I think it might finally be time to lean in. I’m ready to pray and process, to think and grow. I’m going to need to find some silence, because my pastor has said it, my therapist has said it, my home church has said it, and my current book choice (which I’ve wanted to read for a LONG time) is saying it…. and my soul is crying from somewhere way deep down saying “please! yes! yes to this but not yes to everything that’s thrown your way!” In Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist talks about how we’re the only ones who get to control what our lives turns out like in this way. So if it’s frantic and hurried, frenetic and stressed, too stretched to really be enjoyable…. that’s no one’s fault but mine. My soul is ready for winter to end. My soul is ready to bloom and thrive and flourish like it’s summer, but I suspect it can only do that if I give it space to. I think I need to give it some silence. I think it needs room to breathe.