Let’s get the obvious out of the way: it’s cold outside. DC plunged into the single digits this week, and I know that the rest of the country had far worse. Now, I realize that this is record breaking cold, but as someone who grew up reading the Little House on the Prairie books, I have always felt a little wary of the warm winters of my life. Where is the cold that freezes the horses’ noses shut and must be warmed off with your hands before climbing back in your sleigh and putting your feet on the brick that is rapidly losing heat? Where is that winter, the one that got it’s own book and dangerously encroached on all the others? Every time there is a bad winter, people get all excited and dramatic and I am just like, “Did you read Little House? No surprise over here.” And they didn’t even close school. Plus, it’s not like any of us have actually been so cold that we have had to slit open a tauntaun and climb inside its entrails to keep warm. We have had it easy. It is getting a little warmer this weekend but I keep on reminding myself not to get comfortable: winter is here.
One of winter’s properties is being cold, and even being kind of ugly, depending on where you are. If you are spared the brown ugly, then you probably experience the constant snow with its own sort of difficulty. As the problem child of seasons and weather, winter gets a pretty bad reputation. When we are being positive about it, it is usually because of the metaphoric and symbolic beauty of winter. We embrace the fact that life (spring) comes from death (winter) and that we only appreciate beauty (spring again) because of ugliness (winter again).
This is so sad, sotragic that we discount a full forth of the year (or more, if you live Up North which for me is anywhere above a line I have drawn from New York over to Chicago and straight across to the west cost) as being just there to sweeten the other three quarters.
I reject that winter is just a necessary evil of existence. It is cold, dark, harder to love, but also so beautiful in its own rite. It allows us to snuggle inside and be with the ones we love. It brings the miraculous artistry of snowflakes and the perfect glass of icicles. It means those fierce early sunsets that make perfect silhouettes of blackened and bare branches. It is crisp and clear and sharp and real. It means you can get by with extra pounds, unshaved legs, and pasty skin by adding layers. Winter is beautiful, but we are so busy just looking forward and getting through it.
We do this with more than just winter. My generation is both the generation of seizing the moment and YOLOing (can that be a verb?), not planning at all for the future, and of those who are desperately working and planning so hard for the future that they don’t appreciate the stage of life we are living now. I see the first pitfall in those who do nothing but travel, eat out, have fun, and never put down roots or invest for the future. But I see the second pitfall in the tendency to only plan for the next stage – buy a house, have kids, send kids to college, retire – at the expense of the life that is being lived now.
James and I talk about this a lot. We are at that stage of life where all our belongings could fit in one very small moving truck. We have no yard, no guest bedroom, no mortgage, no children, no amassed riches, etc. But along with all these things, we have very little responsibility. This is the tension of newlywed bliss. We want to enjoy life now, eating out, sleeping in, going on adventures, yet still plan for the life we want to have later, saving money, planning to have kids, buying a house etc.
I don’t know the perfect balance. I know that it is vitally important to be prudent in regards to the future. We have a duty to save and plan for our future and make wise decisions now so that we can make fun or important ones later. But I believe that every stage of life is valuable, not just the ones coming later.
Which is why we try to live fully now, enjoy fully this stage of life, with its tiny apartment, crummy plumbing, uncertainty, and freedom. I want to enjoy this time, with its late-night dreaming, its unpredictability, its brunching, and its family of just two. I want every day to matter, not just the future ones.
So this winter, I am trying to remember that in the midst of these cold days and dark nights. I am letting winter remind me of how swift seasons pass. I want to let winter be beautiful in its own rite, for its own sake. Because it is beautiful – all the seasons are beautiful.
Note about quotations: The first is from N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-whirl, a book about which I have very mixed opinions. Awesome poetry, great quotes, but some dangerously inconsistent theology. The second is from missionary and martyr Jim Elliot, quoted in the book Passion and Purity by his wife Elizabeth Elliot. This book is totally awesome, and were I a rich person, I would send a copy to everyone whose Pinterest boards are enamored with Jim Elliot quotes out of context. His whole story is pretty amazing and worth the read. The photos are ones from my parents’ farm in Kentucky over Christmas break and the text is added with the ap Over.