In her memoir Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, author Katherine May writes that, “wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider.” So while May wasn’t aware of the Covid-19 pandemic while writing her book, its release into the world in 2020 is certainly serendipitous, since we’re all in the middle of a winter of sorts.
Usually we winter alone. There’s been a death. There’s been a birth. You’ve lost your job. You’re broke. You’re ill. Suddenly you’re thrust into the role of primary caregiver. You’ve called off an engagement. You’ve been dumped. You’ve failed. You’re embarrassed. You’re humiliated. You’re “in a period of transition and have temporarily fallen between two worlds.” Sometimes it’s gradual. Sometimes it’s abrupt. And sometimes, like in 2020, the usual parameters of wintering are stripped away by something big. Something huge. Something that rips away the cozy walls holding up our collective existence and leaves us all standing in the cold. What’s so strange – and comforting – about this particular winter, is that we’re all experiencing it together.
Except that we’re not. We’re all out in the cold, yes, yet we’re forbidden to offer a hug. Forbidden to drop in and wash the dishes for those who are struggling. Forbidden to sit down next to a friend for a cup of coffee. “Wintering,” May writes, “is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful.” And that’s what’s so awful and ironic and cruel about this pandemic. We’ve been reduced to trying to satisfy our human needs for connection with zoom calls and door step drops, but it’s not the same. We’re lonely, and it’s deeply painful, especially because we’re all experiencing it together.
May’s exploration of her own personal winter holds useful, and perhaps sanity-saving insight into the very necessary “active acceptance of sadness” that we all must undertake during the Covid-19 pandemic. One of Wintering’s central messages is that once we have wintered, we have a duty to share how we survive: “we who have wintered have learned some things. We sing it out like birds. We let our voices fill the air.”
So how have I been surviving this winter? What have I found useful?
Yoga helps. The reminder to breath. The sound of my own inhales and exhales that are there when I focus in on them. Grounding myself in my body. Lying on my mat and really feeling the earth beneath me. It feels solid. Safe. Needed.
Writing helps too. Not big stuff. But little lists. 15 things I’m grateful for every morning. Affirmations and reminders.
Getting outside. The feeling of crisp, cool air filling my lungs. The hoar frost blanketing the trees like some magical winter fairy waved her wand over the Peace Country while we slept. Rabbit tracks and coyote trails. Snow shoeing. The sound of my heart beating in my own ears.
And so does embracing the coziness of staying home. Coffee. Books that remind me of the often overlooked beauty that’s present in being a real, messy human (I’m looking at you Fredrik Backman), and Netflix series that do the same (Schitt’s Creek, The Crown, and The Queen’s Gambit to name a few).
So how have you been surviving this winter? What have you found useful? (And if you haven’t read Wintering by Katherine May yet, consider adding it to your 2021 TBR pile ASAP).