I’m listening this morning to Lucinda Williams whose songs are seldom light and cheerful. Never, or nearly never, do they suggest that life’s an unalloyed blessing, free of nagging sadness, disappointments, screw ups. And yet, I find still them comforting. On a similar, but different register, I just finished reading, “Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times,” written by Katherine May.
Wintering, in May’s personal memoir, is both a season and metaphor, signaling a transition – a liminal period – from sunny and frenetic to slower and darker days during which we can, if we so choose, slow down, withdraw, and explore our sadness, sometimes depression and defeat. On its face, not much fun. But, thankfully, wintering can be more than retreat, despair and pain. It is also a time, May writes, probably the most propitious time, if seized, for sober personal reflection and renewal.
That resonates with me. My life from an early age looks nothing like an ascending line, moving from one success to another, from one great time to another. I have wintered more than once, either out of choice or dire necessity, and am better for it. All of which has made me suspicious of people who, when I ask, “How are you” unfailingly reply “Life couldn’t be better. Everything is great!” On such occasions, I can’t help but think to myself – really?
This pressure to present oneself as occupying at all times the “sunny side of the street” is, in my experience, unhealthy. It closes up the mental space that allows us to confront and absorb life’s inevitable heartaches and disappointments. And, in doing so, forecloses the possibility of coming out of our “wintering” on new, healthier, and higher ground.