On moving and moving on

A couple of months ago Mark and I had a falling out with our third housemate, and decided to look for a two bedroom apartment. For those of you who don’t know, Mark is my good friend and long-time housemate. We lived in an intentional Christian community together for several years, and four years ago moved into a three-bedroom apartment and have been renting out the third bedroom. It was a good plan, I think. We needed to leave the community, and our incomes are both on the low side, and this way we’ve been able to rent out the larger bedroom and pay a little bit less.

I was in the Christian community for seven years, and it was a hard seven years. In many ways it was a toxic environment for me, though despite that (and maybe a little bit because of it) those were years of a lot of inner growth. But it was a community, a family, and hard as it was I was scared to leave, to go off on my own. I was so scared I kept putting it off, year after year, crisis after crisis, until the time came when the decision was taken out of my hands and I had to leave. Mark and I started looking for three bedrooms. We trekked around Boston with realtor after realtor and saw some awful places. Tiny apartments, filthy apartments, bizarrely shaped apartments. It was extremely demoralizing, and the days until we had to move were ticking down. Then we found this place.

This house, where we’ve been for the past four years — it’s gorgeous. It’s spacious and sunny, up on a hill on a tree-lined street, with two porches, a great view, and rabbits living in the back yard for crying out loud. The third bedroom is actually two rooms spanning the whole third floor, so we were able to rent that out at a higher rate than we paid for our bedrooms. I have no idea how it was in our price range, or how we were the only viable applicants. Just to add to the drama and the miraculousness of it all, the landlords didn’t accept our application at first but decided to have another open house — and no one showed up! So at the eleventh hour, just days before we had to leave the community, we signed a lease for Primrose Street.

This house has been such a place of healing for me. After years of struggling in the community and being afraid to leave I found myself spending glorious solitary hours sitting on my porch watching the sun set over the hills as the birds sang in the trees all around me. I rolled out my yoga mat in the large, wood-paneled living room, in front of the working fireplace, and felt my body healing as I stretched. In the winter I chopped garlic and onions, potatoes and carrots in the kitchen and filled the house with the smell of hearty soups. I bought viney plants and watched them slowly take over mantles and bookshelves. I chatted with Mark in the evening, grateful to have a friend to talk to and grateful when we went to our separate corners of the house, introverts respectful of each other’s need for solitude. I’d been so scared to leave, and look where I’d landed. My heart rose up with the words of the Psalms:

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.

I felt God’s message to me in my very bones: “Don’t be afraid.” As Frederick Buechner has so beautifully expressed it in his definition of grace: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

But almost as soon as we’d moved in here I knew there would come a time when we’d have to leave, and I knew it would be really hard. I thought that time would be when our landlords decided to move into the house themselves, since that was their long term plan for the place. But after this last experience of disagreements and miscommunication with the third housemate, Mark and I both agree that we don’t want to have to keep finding and coping with a third person. For even as the house has been such a wonderful place of quiet and healing, there have been conflicts and struggles with our various third housemates. Beautiful and terrible things seem to always come together, don’t they?

It was a hard decision, but I know it is the right one. And I don’t want to be afraid of moving on to the next thing. I was afraid for so long before, and then when I wouldn’t take the leap of faith myself I was pushed, and landed somewhere wonderful. I don’t want to be afraid again. I want to trust that the same Spirit that led me here will lead me to the next place.

And now, right now as I type, we are in the eleventh hour again. We’ve given notice here for June 30th and we haven’t found a new place yet. We thought we found something but it fell through yesterday afternoon. Today is June 16th, officially less than half a month till we have to be out of here. Two weeks, if you prefer things in tidy sets of seven. Mark is in Connecticut helping with his grandmother’s funeral preparations. Right when things got crazy here with our housemate Mark’s mom broke her arm and his grandmother started failing, so he’s been down there for three months now while I try to handle things up here. We’re both struggling with health issues both chronic and acute. Everything seems to be happening at once.

Last night, in the midst of all of this, some good friends from my days in the community came to visit. They are a family of five and one of the things that made it so hard to leave the community, and I’ve greatly missed popping next door to hang out in their kitchen, or Shima stopping by for some of the iced coffee I always had on hand, or the kids knocking on my bedroom door to tell me about their adventures. They sat in my kitchen last night, amidst the moving boxes, and we caught up. They had just bought a house in Atlanta, and Steven shared with me how impossible everything had seemed. He’d applied for a promotion with a pay raise that he wasn’t sure he’d get, they’d been living in a rented house far too small for them, and buying a house seemed out of the question.

“All these pieces had to come together and it seemed impossible,” Steven said, “And I prayed and said, ‘God, you’ve got to make this happen, because it’s not something I can do. It’s all in your hands.'” And they did come together, all of them.

“Yeah!” I said. “That’s how it is for us, now. But you know, it’s better this way, because we see the reality of the situation. Everything is in God’s hands, but the people with all the money and resources don’t realize it. They think they’re in control, but that’s just an illusion.”

“Right,” said Steven, “Exactly.”

I’d been stressed out when they said they’d texted to say they were coming by last night, because everything was happening at once: We’d gotten word of that one apartment falling through just as I was loading the toddler I nanny into the car to pick up his sister from kindergarten, and Mark and I were trying to communicate about maybe appealing the decision and next steps if that didn’t happen. But what a blessing to spend time with old friends from the community I’d been so scared to leave, to hear how God had provided for them, and to exchange words of encouragement and hope. Shima said she’d pray for me, and I felt confident that God would hear her.

And how wonderful to have evidence of God’s redemption in the flesh, old friends who had been through the hard times with me, who have had hard times themselves, to embrace each other with forgiveness and love. Turns out I hadn’t left community behind — it came with me, and it will come with me on this move, too. I will set my viney plants on other mantles, roll my yoga mat out on other floors, and other birds will sing on other trees outside of other windows. There will be beauty, and there will be pain, because life always has both mixed together. I don’t want to be afraid.

***

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On eating and rewiring your brain

They say you are what you eat 🙂

Hello, friends! I’ve missed writing here. Life has gotten unexpectedly stressful lately, and all my energy has gone into getting through each day, coping with things as they come up and trying to make plans for changes that will make life less stressful. In related news, if anyone knows of an affordable two-bedroom apartment in or near Boston, let me know.

Today I thought I’d write a bit about eating — eating disorders, or disordered eating — and healing from them. I’ve never been diagnosed, but I’ve definitely had times in my life when I was anorexic-ish, starving myself and exercising obsessively to lose weight, and other times when I have been unable to stop over-eating. My weight has swung up and down 100 lbs since college. I’ve written about how I learned to break the cycle of over-eating–> feeling shame–> starving myself at the shame part of the cycle here. Basically I decided to stop dieting and stop punishing myself when I overate; to do my best to eat healthy foods when I was hungry, stop eating when I was full, and to forgive myself when I did eat too much. The forgiveness, for me, was the key. When I recklessly and completely refused to feel shame for overeating, I found myself feeding myself more lovingly, and stopping when I was full more naturally.

Another thing I’ve done is to try to replace overeating with other, healthier coping mechanisms. Meditation and centering prayer (a particular type of prayer in which you sit in God’s presence without speaking) helped me to learn to be still, to quiet my mind and my hands so that I did not need the activity of eating to soothe myself. Candles, incense, and scented oils (my favorites are peppermint, rosemary, and lavender) helped to satisfy the cravings for comfort and stimulation that I often mistook for hunger. And yoga has been a wonderful way to reconnect with my body, calm myself, and exercise without the obsessive calorie-counting I used to do on the gym treadmill. I’m now at about the halfway mark in that 100lb weight swing, and have stayed there for six years. I could lose more weight by dieting, but then I’d be right back in the cycle, losing and gaining, feeling constant shame and frustration, thinking about food all the time. I’m much happier where I am, eating healthy, exercising naturally, and trusting my body to know where it wants to be.

My friend Arwen Faulkner wrote a few years ago about something called neuroplasticity. It’s the idea that our brains are rewriteable, that even programs of reaction and response learned in childhood can be changed. Arwen writes poignantly about what that has meant in her life as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. She says that

Neuroplasticity involves the spontaneous rewiring of neurons, the reassignment of neural pathways. Neurons are able to strengthen well-worn connections while weakening or eliminating others. Imagine, the road less travelled, essentially disappears. A healing process, this gives us the power to literally change our minds.

You can read the rest of her essay here. I’ve been thinking about that lately, and how I’ve done just that: rewired my brain, created new well-worn paths to replace the old ones. I don’t really believe in will power in the context of eating — I think white-knuckling it can work for a time but there will always be payback. My times of extreme self control, eating 500 calories a day and burning them off plus more on the treadmill, ultimately resulted in obsessive eating and a ruined metabolism. The body is hardwired for survival. But I do believe that we can replace unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthy ones. My brain responds differently to food than it used to. I don’t get the same intense rush from binge eating sweet or salty foods. I don’t get the same emotion-numbing effect from piling on the calories long after my hunger is sated.

You know what’s funny, though? I kind of miss it. I’ve never used drugs (illegal, I mean – I’ve used plenty of prescribed drugs for the migraines, and I live in fear of someone discovering that coffee is bad for you) and never drank very much, but I imagine being in recovery from abusing food is kind of like being sober. It’s so much better, here, on the healthy side. But, as I mentioned, the last few weeks have been very stressful. Meditation helps, yoga helps, scented things help (I am currently running a humidifier with rosemary and peppermint oil as I write). Getting outside helps, as does focusing on the moment, on what’s in front of me. Breathing exercises help, talking to friends, reading a good book, writing. I have so many healthy coping mechanisms. But they don’t give me quite the same buzz as overeating used to. They walk me through my problems, bring me to a place of peace that is deeper than the circumstances around me. And they don’t hurt my body and make me hate myself. It’s a much better way, really. But still, as I walked through CVS yesterday, looking at the giant bags of popcorn and candy, I thought of how it would feel to climb back into those bags of salt and sugar, the way an alcoholic climbs back into the bottle. To lose myself again, after all this work finding myself. And I felt a moment of regret that that escape was no longer available to me.

***

I don’t really want to write about what’s going on right now, because it seems unfair to vent about my housemate when I have a blog and she (as far as I know) doesn’t. But I do want to say a few things about it:

  1. Thank God for Mark. Really. He is away right now because his mom broke her arm and he is taking care of her, and that makes the current situation even harder, but I am just so grateful to have such a kind, thoughtful, intelligent, and wise friend and housemate.
  2. I’ve had to learn this lesson over and over again, but I think I’m finally getting it: Not everything is my fault, and not everything is fixable if only I can find the perfect thing to say or do, or the perfect way of being. Some things are other people’s faults, God help ’em, and other people’s problems to fix, and all I can do is take care of myself the best I can and leave space open for other people to do their part if and when they’re ready.
  3. This is super hard when the person you’re having a hard time with is living in your house.
  4. Seriously, does anyone know of an affordable two-bedroom apartment?

***

How are you all doing? I’ve missed you. What have you been up to lately? What are some of your coping mechanisms, healthy or unhealthy? Tell me here, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

You are not alone, I promise.

Love,
Jessica

 

 

Activism needs introverts

img_2397The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
~1 Corinthians 12:21-26

Hi friends, how have you been? There’s so much going on in the world right now, and I’ve been wanting to — needing to — write, but my health hasn’t been great. Migraines, then a shoulder injury, then a cold, plus probably some depression, though the symptoms could be migraine symptoms, too.

My body’s limitations have been a frustration to me for most of my life, in how they limit my own well being and how they limit the volunteering and activism I so much want to be a part of. I am only working 30hrs a week right now, but that is enough to sap my resources and make it hard to do much else. I made it to a book discussion about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, but the other things I wanted to do in January — go to a SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) meeting, go to the Boston Women’s March, go to Logan airport to protest the Muslim ban, go to the protest of the Muslim Ban at Copley Square on Sunday, get back to volunteering at Horizons for Homeless Children, volunteer as a baby cuddler at MGH — were beyond my grasp. Even making donations isn’t feasible for me as I struggle to not only pay the monthly bills but to pay off debt from when I was really sick eight years ago, though I did manage (very) small gifts to TogetherRising for refugee aid, and Black Girl in Maine (paying WOC writers for their work is important) and to contribute to having a sandwich named after a friend of mine who died from suicide ten years ago.

I spend a lot of time and energy wishing I had more energy, that my personality was stronger, that leaving the house didn’t make me nervous, that talking to people didn’t exhaust me. But I am trying to do less of that, and focus more on what I *can* do. I can think deeply about things, and I can write (albeit slowly) about them. I can listen well, and hold contrasting ideas in my head without trying to find a facile resolution. I can write (again, slowly) poetry and stories. I can support and cheer for others whose have more energy and extroverted personalities. I can babysit for friends while they go to protests.

I watched a wonderful TED talk the other day by Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective entitled Activism Needs Introverts. She had me hooked when she started out the talk by confessing that she used to hide in toilets (British for bathrooms). Here was someone who had dedicated her life to activism, to making the world a better place, and she was an introvert like me! I have hidden in toilets, on stairwells, on sidewalks, and many other nooks and crannies — and that’s when I could bring myself to leave the house. Sarah said that introverts are important to activism because they are good at slow activism, intimate activism, and intriguing activism. Do give it a listen — she speaks to extroverts, too, and she has the most adorable accent.

I know not everyone who reads my blog is an introvert, but many of you may have also been wondering what your part is in this strange new world we find ourselves in. In the bible passage I quoted up top, Paul is addressing a controversy in the early church about spiritual gifts. Some of the early Christians were doing extroverted, strong personality kind of things like preaching, prophesying and speaking in tongues, and looking down on other who didn’t have those powerful, charismatic gifts. But, Paul said, there are other kinds of gifts — wisdom, discernment, healing — that are not a flashy but just as important. Paul compares the church to a body, and says that even though different parts of the body have vastly different functions, they all depend on each other for survival. The arms, legs, and head may seem to be the most active and important, but without the quiet beating of the heart, the rhythmic breathing of the lungs, and the kidney and liver working to process toxins, the arms, legs, and head would be lost. We all have a part to play, and no one’s part is less or more important.

Frederick Buechner said that, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” What is  that place for you? What are you good at? Are you our lungs, breathing oxygen and peace in and the bad air out? Are you our liver and kidneys, processing the toxins of the world to keep us healthy? Are you our brain’s left lobe, thinking clearly and logically, solving problems and cutting through misinformation and sloppy thinking? Or our brain’s right lobe, seeing colors and patterns missed by others, creating metaphors, art, music, and fantasy that speak deeply to reality? Are you our legs, pulling on your boots and getting out there leading us into battle? Or our mouth, speaking truth to power, speaking with courage and kindness? Whatever you are, we need you. We can’t do it without you.

I love this Twitter thread by thirst trap thexology, who calls herself a “scholartivist”:

We’re gonna need folks to do a /whole bunch/ of different things in the coming years, so now is a good time to take stock of your skills

Do you have money? Support folks who don’t. Give to individuals doing work you can’t, give to bail funds, give to marginalized folks

The streets aren’t for you but you’re good at child care, cooking? Set up a daycare for activists during protests, make food etc

Lawyer? Defend protesters. Policy wonk? Find and exploit flaws in proposed and existing legislation, maybe come up with alt proposals

Artist? Writer? Creative? Dreamer? Give us space to escape to, help us imagine more beautiful futures. You’re so important right now.

Whatever you are good at, it can be of use. Put your skills towards a more beautiful future.

Every single one of you has a skill set that we will need. Every single one of you. Find your lane and work it. We need all of us.

I need you, You need me, We’re all a part of God’s body. You are important to me, I need you to survive.

I’m sitting on my couch writing this, shivering and coughing, covered up in several sweaters and a blanket. I wish I was sitting with the lawyers at the airport. (Those lawyers, man — they are giving me hope.) But I do not have that skill, or that ability. What I do have is my computer. I have my network of friends. I have my blog. And I have prayer, which I still believe in, even now, even more now, even more. Pray for me, and I’ll pray for you. March for me, and I’ll write for you. And one of these days, daggummit, I’ll make it to a protest, too. Maybe a sit in, because standing is tiring. But for now, I write.

Love you all. Thank you so much for reading.
Jessica

***

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January thaw

img_2122Good morning, friends. How are you doing this winter? Is anyone else having a hard time making it through? I’ve been fine, really, but even when the winter is relatively mild it feels like everything is just a little bit harder. Getting out of bed has been harder. I’m hyper-responsible (which comes from a deep fear that I’m irresponsible) so I hardly ever wake up late, much less get to work late, but there have been a couple of mornings lately that it was really, really hard to gather the energy to crawl out from under the covers. Life in general feels hard, but then there’s this upcoming inauguration and fears — which are already being realized — that some hard days are ahead for our country. I have an undercurrent of stress and anxiety that I think many Americans share, and I’m worried about us as a nation. This kind of constant stress isn’t good for us. I’d like to buy us all a coke, except not a coke because it’s full of high fructose corn syrup and chemicals. I’d like to buy us all a smoothie. Or a massage. Or a yoga class. Or, you know, affordable health care.

My own faith, and deep inner peace, comes from the belief that even though everything is not going to be okay, I am going to be okay, deep down in the core of me, where the one who created me and loves me breathes with me. Every breath reminds me of the presence of the Spirit. All I have to do to return to that presence is to breathe. That I am deeply known and loved and held is true, just as it is true that terrible things are happening in the world, and terrible things are going to happen. Holding these two truths together in my heart, in my body, in my breath is the challenge and the hope of this winter.

A friend of mine has chosen the word resistance as her word for 2017, and I wish I could join her. I want to be strong, I want to feel like I can do something to fight for justice and fairness in this scary new world. Or, you know, affordable health care. But I honestly can often barely get out of bed these days. I go to my nanny job, I run my errands, go to physical therapy for this foot problem I have and to the chiropractor for this back problem, come home and cook dinner, take my migraine meds, and then collapse into bed again. Just getting through the day is about all I can manage. I think my word of 2017 might be something like basic survival. Yet that is resistance, too. George MacDonald wrote:

Let us in all the troubles of life remember – that our one lack is life – that what we need is more life – more of the life-making presence in us making us more, and more largely live. Let us rouse ourselves to live. Of all things let us avoid the false refuge of a weary collapse, a hopeless yielding to things as they are…he has the victory who, in the midst of pain and weakness, cries out…for strength to fight; for more power, more conscious-ness of being, more God in him.

I woke up this morning sore from the chiropractor’s appointment, tired from work, and feeling a migraine coming on. But I woke up. I roused myself to live. And I sat on my couch and opened my computer to write to you. I greatly admire my friends, and those like her, who are gathering and organizing and doing something to resist, to fight. And I also greatly admire my friends who are fighting just to get out of bed in the morning. I am trying to admire myself for that, too. Weariness draws us into despair, but instead of giving into that despair, we rouse ourselves to live. We wake up each day and get out of bed. We take deep breaths and remember that God is with us. In the midst of our pain and weakness we cry out for strength and life. And while we wait for the winter to be over we keep moving through it, doing our best each day. That is resistance. That is courage. That is enough.

Love,
Jessica

P.S. If you do have a little extra energy and want to be involved, your local chapter of Showing Up For Racial Justice is a great place to start. Among many other things they send a monthly list of action points, including a commitment worksheet and follow up encouragement. http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/about

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Journey through anguish to freedom

the-sower

The Sower, by Vincent VanGogh

Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
~Psalm 126

I’ve been reading Sabbatical Journey by Henri Nouwen, his journal from the last year of his life. Of course Henri doesn’t know it is his last year of life as he is writing, and many of his thoughts are for his future plans. He was only sixty-five, my parents’ age. It’s hard sometimes to read his thoughts about the future, his plans for ministry and writing. The journal goes through August, 1996, and he died of a heart attack in September that same year.

Eight years before he wrote this journal Nouwen suffered a period of intense depression and spiritual struggle which he wrote about in another book, The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. Mark gave me this book about eight years ago when I was going through my own period of depression and struggle, and reading about Nouwen’s experience, and the wisdom he gleaned, helped carry me through my own anguished journey. It feels significant to me to be reading Sabbatical Journey (also given to me by Mark) eight years after The Inner Voice of Love, just as Nouwen wrote it eight years later.

img_2037Last night I came to this paragraph in the journal, about a visit from Nouwen’s dear friend Nathan. It was written in July, 1996, two months before Nouwen’s death:

In the early evening Nathan and I had a nice dinner. At one point we talked about the anxiety that had been plaguing me during the last few months. I felt somewhat embarrassed and ashamed to put my inner burden on my best friend, but, in the end, I am glad I did. Nathan told me that he found it hard, not so much to listen to my pain, but to realize that I had walked with it so long without sharing it. I explained that it had not been possible for me to talk about such things on the telephone, and he understood. That was a comfort for me. I sometimes wonder how I am going to survive emotionally.

I read this, curled up on my quiet couch on a winter evening, hands wrapped around a hot cup of tea. Nouwen’s time of depression eight years prior to writing that lasted for about six months. My own, eight years ago, lasted longer — two years, perhaps, with another three or four before I was well out of it, and another year or two before I left the community that had been such a mix of security and trauma, comfort and conflict.

Nouwen wrote his journal with the intention of publishing it. He was going to do the editing himself, but after he died his friend Susan took on the task. After I read that paragraph last night, I set down the book and picked up my own journal. I feel I share so much with Nouwen — the inner struggle, a long-time experience living in community, good friends to walk through my life with me, and the desire and calling to write down my experience to give to others. Nouwen wrote around forty books in his life, books full of such wisdom and healing, such intimacy with God and striving to live a life of love and service. His writing helped me and so many others move through anguish to freedom. Yet even at the end, two months before his death, he wrote that stark, honest sentence: “I sometimes wonder how I am going to survive emotionally.”

I imagine him, curled up on his own couch, journal in hand. He had so much insight, so much wisdom to give to us. But in the end, his greatest gift was his honesty and vulnerability. We all desire healing and strength, but when the apostle Paul begged God for his own thorn in the flesh to be taken away, God did not heal him, but said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

Here, let us be willing to be weak in front of each other. Let us teach each other out of what we do not know as well as what we do. Let us learn to value each others’ weakness as well as strength. Let us say to each other that we find it hard, not to listen to each others’ pain, but to realize that we had walked with it so long without sharing it.

Love,
Jessica

***

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Winter survival guide

img_1948 “All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.”

from The Winter of Listening
by David Whyte

Has anyone else had kind of a hard year? Mine wasn’t bad — in fact it was very good in many ways — but there were a lot of hard things. Migraines were worse this summer and fall than they had been in a long time. Our housemate that we really liked moved to California and Mark and I had to put a lot of time and energy into finding and adjusting to a new one. My nanny job ended and it took several months to find a new one. And my dad, who has a degenerative muscle disease, transitioned this year from using a walker to a wheelchair. And the election was, and continues to be, hard.

One of the lessons that my forties has taught me is that hard things are not necessarily a tragedy, but a  part of life. If you spent all your energy trying to make life easy and good you would have very little time left to actually live. Pain and struggle is as much a part of life as joy and happiness, and in some ways are much better teachers. Living in New England teaches me this, as the ebb and swell of the seasons bring such joy and beauty along with pain and difficulty. The heat of the summer worsens the migraines, and the darkness and cold of the winter brings the emotional struggle of seasonal affective disorder as well as the physical challenge of shoveling snow, negotiating parking and driving in the narrowed city streets, dealing with my own colds and viruses as well as those of the children I nanny, and having limited options for activities with the kids.

If I could invent the perfect climate for myself it would have five months of spring, five of autumn, and one each of winter and summer. Just enough heat and cold to get a taste: We would have the month of summer and the month of winter off of work for intensive barbecuing, beach-going / skiing, Christmas and Hanukkah celebration, snowman-making, etc., and then the days would revert back into my sweet spot: 60-70 degrees during the day and just chilly enough at night to snuggle under a warm blanket.

But in real life here in Boston, winter seems to stretch out for five months. The days start getting dramatically shorter in November, and for many people the associated seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, starts even earlier. The end of daylight savings time plunges us into darkness at four o’clock. December doesn’t usually have much snow, but the cold and dark set in for real. And then January and February hit, with their frigid temperatures and the possibility of several feet of snow. Some years are colder and snowier than others, but you never really know what you are in for till you’re in it. March is called the beginning of meteorological spring, but every New Englander knows that, though you may get a day or two of warmish weather — a day or two of lambishness — March is really much more of a lion like its wild, sister winter months.

But the winter days are part of life just like those in the spring. I want to live those days, too, and not just count them down till my preferred days arrive. I don’t want to spend half my year watching the clock. At the same time, the coming spring is part of the winter. The joy to come is part of the sorrow, just as the sorrow flavors the joy. Just like life. And one of the most wonderful things about winter to me is that on its very second day the light begins to return. With the coldest months of the year still ahead of us the days are already lengthening, giving back the morning and evening light that the summer and autumn took from us. (And the bittersweet opposite is also true: On the second day of summer the days are already shortening.)

So one way I survive the winter is by marking my calendar for the light’s return. Since I’m not always awake for the sunrises I focus on the sunsets. The earliest is in mid-December, 4:12pm. By the winter solstice, December 21st, it has already inched back to 4:15, and we only have to wait till January 9th for a 4:30 sunset. 5pm is February 2nd, 5:30 is February 26th, and by the time we go back to Daylight Savings on March 12th we are already at 5:47 which then becomes 6:47, and even those who have to work till six have the light for their commute home.

img_1738Another way I survive the winter is by attentiveness. I have limited light so I try to pay attention to it more. I try to go to bed early and wake up to watch the sunrise. I try to get ready for the early sunset by going outside around 3:30, enjoying the slant of the winter sun and the sharp outline of the bare tree branches against the winter sky. If I can’t go outside I at least look out the window. And when I am home for the sunset I light a candle to acknowledge the transition. I can’t keep the sun from setting, but it feels good to be a part of the process. It isn’t just happening to me, I am allowing it, even welcoming it. And I celebrate the fact that I can recreate the light and warmth of the sun inside my home.

The winter has barely started. It may be another mild one like last year, or it may be brutal like the year before. It’s not going to be easy. But it is a part of life, just the same. And the joy that comes with the first thaw of spring would not be as pure and full if the winter were not so dark and cold.

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