This time of year, we start to wonder if the winter will ever end. The mornings are cold and grey, the sunset still arrives before supper, and the snow just keeps coming.
After receiving some tragic news this past week, I stomped through the Common with nothing but snow-sleet and sorrow as far as the eye could see. But then, right on the edge of the park near my favorite bench, a tiny spark of yellow glinted through the grey.
Though it’s still deep winter, underneath the cold and the dark and the exhaustion and the grief, the light is already growing.
Dawn is creeping in earlier each morning, the witch hazels are starting to bud, and every so often we wake to a bluebird morning, blinding bright light glinting off the snow.
Dear ones, there are days when the grey sorrows seem endless.
Let’s seek out the sunbeams, whether humans or plants or songs or ideas,
knowing that they are always shining beyond the clouds.
This week’s post is dedicated to Monica and to Queenie,
whose lights will never dim.
It is a time to celebrate love, in all its forms.
There are some differences between friends and forests, lovers and mountains, families and prairies, communities and seas… but one thing is constant. All connect us to this world. All confirm connection, turning islands into archipelagos.
Dear ones, let us love.
Let us be loved.
I was working on a thorny analytical question this week and found myself going round and round in circles, frustrated that I had such limited inputs and insights. The question loomed before me, growing in intensity and importance the more I struggled.
It did not help to search harder for those inputs, it did not help to recalculate over and over again, it did not help to squinch up my face in frustration.
What helped was stepping away, and coming back to take a different approach altogether. Putting the question in a bigger context did not give a precise answer, but it stopped the looming sense of struggle. It was like giving up on those jeans from 1995 and finally pulling on pants that fit.
Friends, we do this all the time, trying to force an answer, whether it’s a business plan or a relationship or the universe. It’s great to consider things deeply, but when we feel our faces squinching and our fists closing, let’s see if there’s a different question we could ask, a more essential one.
Let’s give our questions some room, let the air and the light in around them.
We still might not have answers,
but we’ll be able to breathe.
We’ll be able to see.
6We were preparing for an upcoming Divinity School dialogue this week (Tuesday February 2 – please join!) and the word “timshel” popped into my head. This word plays a key role in one of my favorite novels, East of Eden, where after long study it is determined that the meaning is not “thou shalt” but “thou mayest.”
Not a commandment, but an invitation.
The temperatures in Boston have been steadily dropping and with them there is a curling inward, a cocooning that is even deeper than usual this year. Of course, there have been days when my eyeballs hurt from screen time and my belly is over-full of pretzels, but the dark and frozen time is an invitation too.
What might be revealed by these combined invitations of timshel and winter? Each word, each leaf, each soul can contain the whole universe.
If we are looking, what might we see?
My parents like to tell how three of my earliest words as a child were, do it myself! This is a sweet reflection on my deep-rooted stubborn character, which has been my greatest strength and my greatest limitation throughout life, as many deep-rooted traits can be.
This independent streak has been accepted and applauded through most of my life, especially since I’m living in the United States, where standing on your own two feet and pulling on your own bootstraps are so highly valued.
Except. It’s a fiction.
Sure, it is great to have grit and determination and motivation and resilience, and independent thought is especially rare and cherished. But you know what? We also need help.
Help from family and friends. Help from teachers and colleagues. Help from people miles away or decades past, who have built bridges or written books, or tended the land. Help from the land itself, and its creatures and its spirit.
Finally, I am starting to appreciate the help that has been there all along, lifting me up with kindness and strength and truly stunning generosity, as all the while I have been shouting, do it myself!
Dear friends, dear strangers, dear planet, dear spirit,
thank you for the help.
Some of you will recognize this distinctive illustration as being from the terrific book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy. I am grateful for two different recent gifts of this book, since as you all know, books are one of my favorite forms of help.