Winter here is a demanding season—and not everyone appreciates the discipline. It is a season when death’s victory can seem supreme: few creatures stir, plants do not visibly grow, and nature feels like our enemy. And yet the rigors of winter, like the diminishments of autumn, are accompanied by amazing gifts.
One gift is beauty, different from the beauty of autumn but somehow lovelier still: I am not sure that any sight or sound on earth is as exquisite as the hushed descent of a sky full of snow. Another gift is the reminder that times of dormancy and deep rest are essential to all living things. Despite all appearances, of course, nature is not dead in winter—it has gone underground to renew itself and prepare for spring. Winter is a time when we are admonished, and even inclined, to do the same for ourselves.
But for me, winter has an even greater gift to give. It comes when the sky is clear, the sun is brilliant, the trees are bare, and first snow is yet to come. It is the gift of utter clarity. In winter, one can walk into woods that had been opaque with summer growth only a few months earlier and see the trees clearly, singly and together, and see the ground they are rooted in.
— Parker J. Palmer from Let Your Life Speak
Poetry can keep life itself alive.
You can endure almost anything
as long as you can sing about it.
— James Wright from Collected Poems
Like most people, I would prefer to escape deep loss and to avoid hard and challenging times. Yet the dark has given me gifts that are immeasurably deep. It was because I wrestled with the dark that I learned to see beyond what was happening on the surface of my life, and grew to understand that everything is more than it appears to be. In time I knew that the dark is not absent of light. Light moves within the dark at a great depth. With this realization came a glimpse of the inordinate beauty and power just beyond our sight. The experience of darkness is not reserved for a single, crushing or defining event. We encounter darkness in the many challenges that arise within life. Some are great and some small, but each hold the same potential to alter the way we look at ourselves, and the way we think about our human journey. The dark, more than the light, opened my eyes to my own conditioning. I believed that I saw things clearly until the dark taught me otherwise. As a result, an apprenticeship with the night is an inheritance I would wish for everyone. Beyond the experience of the loss of loved ones through physical death, darkness may arise when we are deeply disappointed by some turn of events, or by someone’s actions. It can appear when we feel shamed or disillusioned, or when we confront unexpected illness, both mental and physical, as well as the diminishment of our former strength. We may face the dark if we suffer the loss of a job, or the loss of faith. It is a shadow lurking in the depth of addiction, and we know it in times of betrayal and when we’ve been judged or abused. The pain of divorce, the realities of aging, the death of our particular dreams… these all evoke the dark. It hovers nearby when we are unable to express who we most deeply are. It wears many faces and names. The dark meets each person in unique ways, and our individual thresholds assume varying forms. Each one is significant. When a life experience calls into question the things you’ve formerly known and believed, the moment can be decisive. From my own journey, I vividly remember times of sheer confusion when I didn’t know if I was being overcome by the dark, or by a great love. Then the wondering, too deep for words, if they were in fact the same …
— Paula D’Arcy from Stars at Night: When Darkness Unfolds as Light
I want hard stories, I demand them from myself. Hard stories are worth the difficulty. It seems to me the only way I have forgiven anything, understood anything, is through that process of opening up to my own terror and pain and reexamining it, re-creating it in the story, and making it something different, making it meaningful – even if the meaning is only in the act of the telling.
― Dorothy Allison
- The Winter of Listening
- Magnificent Refuge (A Winter Reflection)
- Another Spring
- A Celebration of Winter Solstice