My eyes tracked the children and parents walking briskly in the crisp, cold air after the school dismissal bell rang. I couldn’t stop staring at them. They absolutely stunned me, outlined in golden light, the first sun rays cracking through the dreary, wet, overcast skies of the last several days. It was the late afternoon slant of the almost-winter sun that made the people glow radiantly and jump out at me after no sunshine all week. I had time to watch them while sitting in my car, so I did for several minutes until my son found his way to the passenger door, explaining that he had been busy socializing on his way out of the building. The trees and school building didn’t glow like the people did that day, I noticed. The rays of light seemed to seek out their faces and windblown hair, puffy coats and heavy backpacks.
“Hit the road?” Aden asked, buckled in waiting and for me to reverse out of my spot.
I refocused and shifted gears, not quite ready for the next phase of the day, the After School Hours Until Dinner. This phase was marked by an accounting of what I did and didn’t get finished at home while my husband and our sons were at school. While going through my mental checklist, I’d also need to help Aden decompress from his school day, have a snack, make dinner and wrap up my own work while something cooked in the oven or the stovetop. Like a child, sometimes I found this transitional phase difficult. I’m in my head at home alone for hours and hours in peace and quiet and then I’m Mommy again, Executive in Charge of Meeting All Needs. We drove home in pleasant silence.
I kept thinking about the light outside of school. It prompted me to consider how I was going to get through winter this year. I don’t have wishy washy feelings about the winter months here in the uplands of south central Indiana. I hate it. I hate cold air which makes me tense up, a constant crick in my neck until early May. I can’t stand the gray skies, oppressive and heavy. There are no leaves, no green to enjoy, so easy on the eyes. In spring and summer, I can just slip on shoes over my bare feet, walk out of the house with my purse and keys. I hate bundling up in scratchy layers for half of the year with wool socks and boots, and hats that mess up my already questionable hair. You may or may not know the irritation of fishing around for a bra strap that’s fallen to an elbow under layers of shirts, sweaters, scarves and coats.
And those are just my physical discomforts. Emotionally, winter slays me every year, even as I brace myself for the inevitable. My brother’s death a week before Christmas ended any real joy of the season over a decade ago. I’m not a Christian and find commercialism troublesome, so the Most Wonderful Time of the Year to me is just sad. By February, I’m hurting, and find myself in front of the TV a lot, wondering if it’s too late in the season to justify buying a down comforter just for couch time. I cry a lot.
But god knows I’m a problem solver if I’m anything, so each year I attempt different tried and true, proven strategies to get through winter without doing permanent damage to my mind, body or spirit. I plan trips, refusing to set one foot further North than it already is. I focus on how warm 50 degrees will feel if I just head somewhere like Tennessee (gloves optional). I bake and cook every single day, even as leftovers pile up, just to feel the heat of the stove. My husband Rob, who is much more comfortable in winter than I, suggests embracing a slow pace and thinking of winter as a dormant period. It's very hard for me to act complacent, though. But, I’ve tried that every year too. I’ve tried accepting all of the above and not fighting the things I can’t change, like the weather, the early sunset, the darkened mornings.
In recent years, I’ve looked forward to hiking in late fall and cool winter days. “No ticks to worry about, right?” Rob contends. Few birds to see or hear and no flowers to enjoy either, I think. But maybe I can feel the spirit within a great tree or huge slab of limestone. Maybe I can feel the spirit of a lake or the rare blue sky. I want to engage in all the spirits I come across, and remember that other spirits are simply quiet right now, dormant in the frozen earth.
I will try to seek those moments when the schoolyard is full of beautifully illuminated people and hold on to the image. I hope that will keep me warm in the months to come.