Listen To Article
“Do you like snow?” Margaret asked.
I glanced outside through the wall of windows by the Meijer checkout and observed that the snow had not yet broken its 48-hour binge. At least it had slowed. Currently, it looked like someone had ripped open a down pillow. Each feathery large flake leisurely drifted to the ground.
“I don’t mind it,” I replied. “I mean, I don’t LOVE it, but there are worse things about Michigan weather I dislike, for example the winter cloudiness and lack of daylight. I am not a skier or snowshoer or anything, nor do I go out of my way to be out in it, but I like the excuse snow gives me to hunker down and stay inside.”
Margaret the cashier nodded her approval as she scanned the last of my groceries. “I think it’s pretty. I don’t understand why people get so upset by it. If you live in Michigan, you have to make your peace with the snow.”
My response to the cashier’s question took me by surprise. Not too long ago, I would have had a very different response to that question. Pre-COVID Beth hated winter, and especially the snow, like a toddler hates having her face washed. Snow made me cancel my appointments and pastoral visits, when driving became too arduous.
“School snow days” added another plate to spin when I would have to figure out childcare in the already tenuously organized packed day of single parenthood. Snow shoveling was a major inconvenience when I needed to be somewhere at a specific time. And then there’s the winter darkness. By late January the lack of sunshine would take its toll on my mental health. Darkness begot depression which begat an inability to get out of bed which begat a call to my doctor for an uptick in my Wellbutrin prescription.
My saving winter grace was running, ironically. Something about bundling up and strapping on my Yaktrax ice cleats, even when the morning was still dark and the temperature below freezing, made me feel like I had a measure of control over the winter. I could convince myself, if only for a few minutes, that winter is not the boss of me. “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world!” was my Walt Whitman/Dead Poets Society declaration as I defiantly whipped open the front door to attack the icy sidewalks of Holland, Michigan.
My winter running strategy got shin splints in 2019. I was walking to church on an icy day and slipped, injuring my back to the point of barely being able to stand for months. There were three rounds of physical therapy, injections at a pain clinic, and even conversations about possible surgery. My yawp became a yawn. Have I mentioned my hatred of winter?
Not long after my injury came COVID 19. I, like the rest of you, exchanged conference table meetings for tic tac toe organized faces on computer screens; restaurant gatherings for sourdough starters. Church services felt as cold as February. Empty pews. No hands to pass peace too. No Johnson & Johnson scented baby heads to baptize with water. Even fervently singing hymns aloud morphed into weapons instead of worship. Spiritual warfare indeed.
To this day, I don’t know how life paradoxically became less busy, yet so much more exhausting. At least once a week, I would say to someone “How is it, I am only working at 2/3 capacity, yet I am constantly on the verge of burning out?” The old rhythms of work and life and play and worship no longer danced together. It was as if our entire world slipped on the ice but there were no physical therapists to teach us how to become strong again.
The past two and half years have been a journey in relearning self-care. The things that fed me before – meals with friends, running on ice, live theatre, traveling to new cities — had all melted away.
Even now, with some of the old life returned, my stamina still lags. I am back to my pastoral counseling and visits, which I love, but I have been exhausted by it. This new life needs new nourishment. I binge TV more. I read less. I eat too much. None of these coping skills are best long term. But what I have learned is to be with myself more; to be still more.
I even notice the world more. The past two and a half years I observed that there are some robins who live in Michigan year-round, not just the warmer months. I discovered a bunny who has lived in my backyard these past couple of years – I see her, unbothered by the snow, watching the world quietly by the side of our fence. Even now, her prints adorn our snowy lawn, like little snow angels. I find myself wondering about her sometimes, even when I am away. The Christmas cactus I keep on my kitchen windowsill gave us four flowers this November, up from none the year before. I took time, trying out different windowsills the past several seasons, to see which one was most nurturing.
Then, last week, the gift of two snowstorms. I cancelled a couple of meetings and appointments. I answered emails in fuzzy slippers. I attended a ZOOM consistory meeting, drinking tea in my favorite mug and wearing pajama pants with a professional top. I put my ear pods in and listened to my favorite poetry podcast while shoveling snow in those same pajama pants. I looked for my bunny friend. Most importantly, I sat quietly on the living room sofa and watched the snow out the window, giving thanks to God for health, for family, for meaningful work, for tea, and yes, even for the snow.
Thank you for asking, Margaret. I have made my peace with the snow.