Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Comes Knocking

The movie is almost as old as I am (I saw it once, at Geneseo, when I was half-drunk, and I sort of remember it, but I wouldn't mind watching it again someday), but I always thought that "The Lion in Winter" was one of the best movie titles ever, from the time I was a kid. It's beautifully descriptive, tells an entire story in a very short sentence, and it's as perfect a use of metaphor as there is in the English language. And every year when December 21 comes around, I think of that movie title at least once during the day.
And even though winter starts with a figurative bang, with Christmas and New Year's in back-to-back weeks, there's no real denial of the fact that for most of the natural world, winter is a time of death or dormancy. I think that one of the reasons I've always liked winter is that it fit my own self-image as a leoine type that is capable of surviving tough times, that would endure and emerge victorious through any prolonged struggle. That self-image hasn't proven to be entirely false bravado; I have survived a lot of troubles over the years, even if many of them were of my own making. And I confess to feeling superior to all these whiny types complaining about the cold weather from October through March, those that are terrified of snowfalls over a dusting, and those that barely function outside their front door for four or five solid months. I don't mind shoveling, and I have no issue driving in the snow and slush. Before my feet broke down, I loved ice skating and playing hockey. One of the hundreds of reasons that I am happy we now have a dog is that I have a reason to walk around outside several times a day (I smile condescendingly every time I see that Facebook meme "The air outside is hurting my face. Why do I live where the air hurts my face?" Wimps...) The bane of my existence in warmer weather is bugs, followed closely by sweating without exertion, and neither of these is on the table in the wintertime.
And ultimately, the natural purpose of winter, at least as it has evolved on a planet with a 23-degree tilt of its axis, is that it clears the deck for a renewal of life in the spring. There have been a few winters where that has been literally true for me, too. Last year, I spent the entire winter looking for a new job, which I found just as the season was ending. Eighteen winters ago, I spent the entire winter in a halfway house, putting active addiction behind me and preparing to re-enter society as a productive, clean member of it (I spent that winter in Florida, and let me tell you, it was the most disconcerting experience of my life, and I have had a bunch of disconcerting experiences. Never again, if I can help it). This winter, I am preparing to switch jobs in a few weeks, and after three years of stops and starts and setbacks among too-brief moments of bliss, Lauren and I are hopefully going to take what we have to a more steady and stable level. There is certainly a lot more reason to believe that positive changes are coming, and a better quality of life is on the way.
Because the message of winter is ultimately one of hope. After more than a half-century on this planet, I know that the spring does come, that the promised renewal does happen, that in six or seven months I will complaining constantly about how hot and uncomfortable I am. My life span is inexorably playing out, but I am not in personal winter yet, not quite. There is nothing dying here; I may feel discouraged on occasion, but in general I have adjusted to new realities, but also found many other pleasures and reasons to enjoy the life I am leading. There are many pleasures to be found in the wintertime in nature, too, and a whole lot of life forms manage to survive and thrive without bailing out on their habitat. And at least up until this point, I'm one of them.
It's also the shortest day of the year today And that bothers me not at all. I prefer night to day in the best of circumstances, and most people (not me at present, but within a month, I will rejoin their ranks) are not working at night and most of our social interactions take place at night. And I truly don't mind the sun coming up at 7 and setting at 4:45, even on a cloudless day like this one is going to be. So let the winter arrive, and welcome it for the wonder it is.

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