Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Clouds Ye So Much Dread

Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness 
instead of lightbecause their deeds were evil. 
—John 3:19

From the pink glow behind my eyelids on Tuesday morning, I could see that the sun was shining before I had even opened my eyes. The window to our bedroom faces east, and the warm light leaking through the yellow curtains spoke of crocuses and daffodils and soft, damp grass. Sitting up in bed, I peered through the glass and let my dilated pupils contract. Below me lay a street washed clean by night-rains and sparkling beneath a blinding sunrise.

After months of snow and weeks of drizzle, these bright mornings blast through the gloom with a jolt of energy that no quad-shot latte can rival. Sunshine spills over the yard, puddles on the carpet and trickles into my soul. By the time I pull the living room curtains as wide as they will go, I am already inspired, ready to tackle projects that have lain untouched for months—ready to sew duvet covers, try new recipes, push strollers, plant seeds, pull weeds, get dirt under my fingernails. Goodbye, clouds. Hello, life.

My name is Hannah, and I am addicted to sunlight.

I don’t remember when I first noticed that a lack of sun was resulting in painful withdrawals, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve found that the weather can hold more than a little sway over my mood. When the sky is gray, my thoughts tend to be gray as well. I struggle to get myself going in the mornings. I drink one too many cups of coffee. I stare blankly at the monochromatic blandness, and I sometimes wonder what on earth possessed us to leave Texas: I could be driving past sun-warmed fields of bluebonnets right now, and instead I’m going numb scraping ice off my windshield.

Short, dark days find me fighting against a short, dark temper, and by the time we give up on saving daylight near the end of the year—when our clocks “fall back” with a dull thud—the loss of sunlit hours starts to rankle.

When the elderly choose to flee the frozen north and spend their winters in Scottsdale or Miami, I do not laugh. I sympathize. Maybe I am merely a snowbird who has not yet learned to fly. Why shouldn’t blue horizons and pink hibiscus brighten the winter of life? With our hair and teeth turning gray, why should we stay to watch the sky and earth do the same?

There’s a reason you’ve never heard the word “bleak” used to describe a mid-summer’s day. Warmth and light need no defense. Light was the very first created thing. And it was good. Does a “cold” shoulder or a “dark” glance ever describe friendliness and joy? Does not the very nature of things tell us what cold and darkness ought to communicate to our poetic sensibilities?

I have friends who claim to love winter. This I do not understand. Not in the least. Nay, not even a little tiny bit. Winter is cold. Winter is dark. Winter is colorless and confining. Winter kills. When people say they look forward to winter, it strikes me with the same discordant note as when churchy people say they look forward to death. Yes, by all means, look forward to what’s on the other side, but do not look forward to death. Death itself is the curse. And I cannot help but think of winter in the same way—as a thing that must be overcome. Winter is a good only insofar as it is a means to arriving at spring.

In order to be enjoyed, winter must be conquered and subdued. We war against it with down parkas, with fiberglass insulation, with UV lamps, with tanning beds, with vitamin D capsules, with tropical beach screensavers, with wood fires, with hot cider. From November to March, my home can feel like a castle under siege; we may not escape its walls without wool hats and snow shovels—the shields and weapons of our hibernal battle.

When I was 13, my family spent the winter in Warsaw, Poland, where the color of virtually everything we saw was a cold gray—clouds, ground, snow, trees, buildings, and even clothing. The sun rose at 10:00 and set at 4:00. There were days when the sun itself seemed to have had the life sucked from it, days when color film seemed a superfluous commodity. Countless pitiable souls had given themselves over to fifths of cheap vodka in their pursuit of a remedy to the chill without and the darkness within. We felt the oppression of that winter ourselves. It was the only time I can remember ever seeing my mother give way to inexplicable tears.

Snow, I grant, is beautiful in its way, but I always feel that it’s at its best when viewed from indoors while it gleams fresh under a clear blue sky and tries for all the world to mimic the white sands of a subtropical beach. I, for one, am dreaming of a green Christmas. I’d trade a thousand soggy snowmen for one sun-drenched sandcastle.

During the season of Epiphany when the days are dim and the nights long, we sing the hymn “As With Gladness Men of Old,” and the final verse always makes my heart swell with longing:

In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its light, its joy, its crown,
Thou its sun which goes not down…

Sun which goes not down. Meditate on that. I think I know why my stalwart ancestors settled in Norway; it was surely summer when they arrived, and that midnight sun must have seemed very near to the heavenly country bright. The very thought leaves me pining for the fjords. Little did those pre-Viking hoards know what awaited them come November. Maybe those dark, tiresome winters were behind all the pent up aggression that my distant forebears eventually unleashed on the rest of Europe. And while I may not feel the urge to ransack a village at the end of a long, drab season, I'm certainly tempted to be unreasonably irritable with my family.

When sun finally does break through the gray, as it did this Tuesday morning, the effect is glorious, and I need little other help to embrace the morning. On those days, it's easy to love whatever I meet, and you may even find me humming a tune before I reach the coffee pot. But I cannot spend nine months of the year in fetal position waiting for those sun-days to arrive.

This succession of gray days is trying. But I also know that it has been good for me. When the sun retreats for days on end, it tests my patience and my hope. When that created light grows dim, it drives me to seek a light that endures in spite of thick clouds and short days and winter winds; it drives me back to that sun which goes not down. Light—unchanging, unwavering, unerring Light—shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it: good news that should make for a very good morning indeed.


Anonymous said...

I love this post, I too am addicted to sunlight and find cold/winter oppressive, but I think my worst season is fall, when everything 'starts' getting cold, dark, and rainy/snowy. when I know winter is almost here, and it's gonna last a long time! yay for april! :-)

Mindful Musings said...

Thanks Hannah. I printed this out for Julie as she is dreading moving to Eugene now that she has learned it is one of the 10 cloudiest cities in the US, but I too have been feeling that this winter has been interminable (and my Facebook friends from SC posting pictures of themselves at the lake in bathing suits hasn't helped). ;-) Beth

windandbigwaves said...

Beautiful! As I bundle up as the winds are whipping off Lake Michigan and I am on my way to work on Palm Sunday, thinking what happened to the Spring I saw last week break through winter???Have awonderful Sunday and keep writing:)

Signe said...

I'm glad to know I am not alone. I spent an hour on Friday in the butterfly room at the Pacific Science Center, it was so delightful. That was my little taste of summer for this late cold spring.

I am thankful that we have coffee to help ward off the winter blues.

Claire said...

Don't look outside right now, but you had better go and pour yourself another cup of coffee.

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