the Sness of a thing
I am not T shaped. I am S. But I have spent most of my life hammering my Sness into Tness because I believed T to be good, S not.
No one criticizes S for not having the sharp angles of a T or expects S curves from T. Besides, S and T serve different functions and aren’t interchangeable. No one hates either for not being like the other.
But many of us hate winter because it’s unlike fall, spring, or summer. I did. I dismissed winter for not having the attributes I defined as pleasing or beautiful: long sun filled warm days with caressing breezes. Winter is cold, dark, the wind is biting, and the sky stays grey for days.
I even hated winter trees. Their starkness made me uncomfortable. I wanted fall colors, spring blooms or verdant summer leaves. They were S and only T was good.
It was around the time I began recovering from bulimia that it occurred to me maybe winter trees carry a different beauty. Branches are sturdy bones. Nests hidden during other seasons reveal themselves. The textures and patterns of bark, again overlooked in other seasons, become apparent. And then there is the ceaseless magic of snow clothing naked branches.
As I began to embrace my Sness, I could embrace the Sness of winter. Luckily around this same time, I had a boss who insisted we walk during meetings. Outside. Regardless of weather. I had no idea people spent time outside when it was below 50. I noticed new things: the crisp scent of cold air, the slant of winter sun, scat and paw prints in snow, the poignant foliage of wintering plants. How leafless trees allow sunlight and warmth to reach us. How invigorated I felt during and after our frigid walks.
Here’s another way to look at it. When getting to know Joan, I didn’t compare her to my friend Martha. I got to know Joan on Joan’s terms. How could I value Joan’s Joanness if I was measuring her against Martha’s Marthaness?
Maybe winter distresses many of us because we are meant to hibernate, do different work, wear different fabrics, and even eat different foods but we mostly do the same things, eat the same foods, and wear the same fabrics year-round, living largely in denial of natural rhythms. 24/7/365 artificial uniformity is so normalized— like a season superimposed on Earth’s seasons—that perhaps we detest winter because it chafes under the unrealistic expectations placed upon it.
Learning to value winter for its winteriness feels like spiritual practice. What can I learn from experiencing a season as it is, without judgement? Without comparison? Will that inform how I embrace the seasons within myself and others? It is like getting to know a distillation of self. Here is the rawness of being without accoutrements. Here is the self that weathers what comes, the self that hibernates, hunkering down into a way of being until it is time to be elsewise. Here is the truth of our own rhythms.
Appreciating winter is also a gratitude practice because we’re invited into valuing our specific here and now, the particular longitude and latitude we inhabit. The Midwest allows us to experience a broad spectrum of weather. Not just T and S, but an entire weather alphabet. What happens to us as individuals and as community if we practice valuing what we want to discount, revile, or dismiss? What treasures will surface if we are curious instead of resistant, longing for something else? Winter is also an opportunity to trust, anticipate and savor rhythms not of one’s making or superimposed by capitalism or a Protestant work ethic; rhythms ancient and wild and orderly and purposeful and with more wisdom than narrow human ideas of what is pleasing or beautiful or worthwhile.
But this appreciation didn’t happen overnight. Embracing something you once loathed, whether it's a person, one’s body or a season, takes curiosity. Takes time. Time spent getting to know the Sness.