In the midst of this unrelenting winter, when its cold teeth were firmly grasping my neck, a friend sent me this quote: “Wisdom comes with winters.” ~ Oscar Wilde
It was a comfort as I braved another week (another month) of below zero weather. It made me feel as if my fortitude would bring me a reward – a valuable gift – if I could just make it through the tunnel of snow and cold. Mostly, the quote helped me feel as if my suffering had meaning – which always makes suffering a little more OK. The formula is simple: I go through a trial and am stronger for it.
I learned later that the quote really did not mean that. Not at all. I was tolerating winter, not embracing its gifts. And therein lies the difference.
Sometimes it feels like a national pastime, to hate winter. As soon as the shine of the New Year grows dull, the complaining – about the cold, dark, snow, gray, blah, blah, blah – begins. Yes, the days get long. But I’ve lived in and traveled to a variety of places and each one has its own special climate and weather. We complain about the rain in Washington, about the crushing heat in Arizona, the chattering cold of Minnesota, the humidity of Tennessee. But, I say, isn’t that part of the loveliness, the uniqueness that makes those places what they are?
There wouldn’t be a confluence of waterfalls around Washington without the rain. There would be no saguaro cacti in Arizona without the dry heat. The humidity of Tennessee affords us magnolia trees. The cold of Minnesota offers us the miracle of the birch tree.
There is a natural inward turning for me in winter. After Christmas, I get very quiet. I read a lot. I make soup. I fill the pages in my journal. I read some more. I write. I read. I roast sweet potatoes. I sew a quilt top. I knit. I bake bread. I read.
This winter, with its record-setting and humbling cold, I stayed home. It didn’t feel safe or wise to leave the safety of home. I felt like by getting quiet and reading and doing all these things, I was gaining some wisdom. Winter forced me to be still. Quiet. This was my instinctual understanding of those words by Wilde.
It wasn’t until I was reading a section in Leadership Education by Oliver & Rachel DeMille that I understood Wilde’s quote in a fuller way. As it turns out, wisdom does come with winters, but it doesn’t come by just bearing through it.
The DeMilles write, “Winters are for stories. In our agrarian past, people worked hard from spring through fall, and took winters off as a natural time to share the learning of the past…Much of a farmer’s work was done for the year when the snow fell, and winter was a time of learning… Winter is a time for stories and study.”
They continue, “The activities of body in spring, summer and fall prepare the mind for yet another significant annual learning spurt from October through April…the natural time to significant paradigm shifts and great learning is winter.”
For most of my life, I’ve naturally read more, regrouped, dug deep, reflected and written during winter. But I’ve never known why. I’ve never put a name on this natural pattern. And I love, love, love it when I finally can understand in a factual way something that before was a hunch, a quiet urge.
And so this winter – and for all my winters to come – I embrace the cold, the stories, the quiet, the inward turning, the writing. I won’t will the calendar pages to move quickly to the warmer months. I’ll embrace the gift of winter, the power of those cold days – to dig in without distraction.
Today, as I run down a manuscript, I am grateful for these lingering days of chill air. I know that as soon as the sun emerges and decides to stay – I will be unable to resist (nor should I) the lure of long days spent running, biking and gardening outside.