Maybe’s it’s because the trees went from green to brown to fallen.
Maybe it’s the imagining of them soon stark brown, see-through, bare.
Or maybe- likely- it’s that when they were flower-filled and magical we were locked in on lockdown.
Whatever it is, I know that winter is bearing its teeth at me when it’s not even yet here.
I struggle with depression regularly and added seasonal sadness on a good year. When life is right, February is still long, and once the holidays are over, sadness and depression settle in deep. The cold, the darkness, they have their way of smothering my heart and numbing my mind. This is all kept at bay while the Christmas lights are up and cocoa still feels cozy and winter feels white. Then the lights come down and the music stops and the winter-wonder is played out and winter feels brown. Completely brown.
I know January gets hard but I really know what February brings.
Chapped skin, chapped heart, raw.
I never look forward to winter.
But this year I’m dreading it.
As I wrestle with this pre-doom gloom, I’ve been perplexed at my own negativity. Fighting panic already over the darkening evenings, time-change worsening, daylight dimming, black sky threatening. But I’ve been here before, and I’ve always loved the fall, even with these changes. I take the opportunity to soak up the last bits of light and warmth before winter, enjoy the first feelings of crisp air, revel in fall colors and festivities.
Where am I this fall? Why has my joy been turned to sadness? Why has winter’s ache already reached me?
I look back on the year and I can see it. It makes sense when I pause and consider.
I already had winter.
Oh of course, the regularly-scheduled program of winter this last January-March, but then another winter came, right away. Right when the spring blooms were bursting and color came back, winter came again in the form of Covid. Stuck in on lockdown, the stay at home order felt cruelly timed with the joy and freshness of spring. It lingered longer than we would have imagined, and even now things are not fully opened up.
How can we go from not fully open to shut in again?
How do we stare down another sick season when the whole year has been one?
This entire year has felt like winter.
And I know, even as I type this, how thankful I should be that things are mostly opened, and we are free to be out and we are well and this is a far cry from quarantine and illness! And I am thankful, but oh, Father, help me, even as I give that thanks, I’m hit with sadness at what could soon come.
It’s like we are heading down the other side of the roller coaster but never got to make it to the peak.
Because even if it’s a “normal winter”, even on a good year, winter brings winter.
And we’re used to this cyclical pattern- entering cold and flu season, braced for germs, cleaning and sanitizing more; the weather changes, dark and frozen, isolated indoors. But this year we don’t have that cyclical preparedness. We didn’t get the full taste of spring, or summer for that matter, and now as fall is here we are all off kilter. Even the trees seem out of synch as they wither and brown never even bothering to change colors first. Fall? Is it fall? Oh, we didn’t feel it either.
My capacity for sick-season-stress is already full before sick-season begins, my homebound haggardness already high. I’m not going into this winter with any type of fresh fervency for germ-fighting or socially-spent hibernation happiness. I haven’t had my fill of spring or summer and it’s left me unable to taste fall yet, already bitter with winter.
How do I enter winter like this?
There’s a tree, one tree, and isn’t there always one? It stands out bright and full and yellow and it just screams with defiance at the brown decay that this fall has been. I will do fall, it seems to say. I will step into my proper role and proper time and the world may be crumbling like brown leaves but I will stand bright and bold and declare the beauty of fall. And as I look at it and remember fall, remember pre-Covid fall, I also remember spring. Isn’t this the true source of my despair? Not that winter is coming, but that spring was scarred.
It’s not just the hard times that really get us down, it’s when the hope of after is shaken that we crumble. When we go through suffering, it’s not just about what we lose, but what then doesn’t come. The “next” that doesn’t unfold as we expected, future seasons stolen.
Winters are hard, but last winter, without us even knowing it, was worse. Because when winter left, a pandemic came and we began another winter. The calendar and climate said winter was done, but our minds and our hearts began one anew. And here we are, from winter to winter, to another winter.
And winter wears heavier when you don’t hope for spring.
But in a moment, I see it, see my dichotomy, see the contradiction, see my mistake.
Looking at that yellow tree, and sensing that defiance, my weakness becomes clear. How can I allow the pain of a future season to rob me of joy in this one, yet not allow the joy of the next one to rob the previous season’s pain? If anything I must at least be consistent- either winter swallows up fall’s joy as spring does winter’s pain, or winter keeps its pain and fall keeps its joy. If the future is allowed to reach back and grasp and transform the before, then doesn’t this time travel continue for all seasons?
Isn’t this the essence of hope? That reaching ahead as the ahead reaches back and borrowing joy to come, coming back and covering the hurt of now. If potential gloom stifles my current glee, then how can I not also look further ahead and see the healing?
Winter will come, but through Christ I can stand and reflect defiant beauty in the middle of it. And the thing about see-through bare trees is how you can see the sun.
After this last winter, spring came, and though it seemed lost, and much was smothered, the flowers bloomed. Spring was hard, so much missed experience, but the flowers bloomed.
When I look ahead to this winter I must refuse to stop there. Because as that time lapse crushes, I can look ahead yet again and see winter itself crushed. No matter what, no matter how hard or how bleak, spring will come. The healing may not look like what we wanted, it may not be the spring we longed for, but it is spring and new life blooms and color returns and there is a promise of hope that whispers He makes all things new.
We must remember this in all of life’s winters, through the seasons of hard and heartache and cold. The Son shines through the bare spaces, He brings spring always, and though the healing may not look like what we wanted, hope reaches forward again and knows. We know. Our sadness will be turned again to joy.
He makes all things new.