Winter

We returned home from southern Utah just in time for the first taste of Minnesota’s final season. An arctic clipper slipped below the 49th parallel; temperatures dipped into the negative twenties and thirties.

I love when people say, “Minnesota is so nice because we have all the seasons,” as if the rest of the country is missing out on our little white secret. It’s a lot like saying, “my girlfriend is great because she has all the emotions.”

But, as silly as I think the rationale is, my flag waves in that camp too: winter truly is special. (And, negative emotions have their place too.) There are two schools of thought:

Winter Example A.

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A sparkly white mysteryland, scattering sunlight in rainbows and pretty snow. A time of cocoa and fashionable scarves, toasty warm treats and fuzzy blankets. A time for coziness and comfort.

Winter Example B.

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An excruciating cold witch who blisters lips in minutes, cracks concrete foundations, and forces you to stuff multiple hats and socks and pants on to do the simplest thing. Frostbite sinks her teeth in less than ten minutes from closing the door behind you. Forgotten coffee in the cupholder is a block before your lunch break (and will remain so until April).

There isn’t enough sunlight to make the day long enough to be productive, not unless you manage to scrounge up the motivation to get moving several hours before the sun and even more after it goes down. Furnaces give out from the exertion. Propane tanks empty. The season of joy.

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And as I was somewhat crabbily yanking extension cords around my yard and shoveling icy stairs – shaking my hands out and banging my boots every so often to keep my phalanges unfrozen – I thought of a conversation I’d recently had with a good friend.

I was telling him that I was having a hard time not feeling depressed. Not specifically about winter, but because of emotional weights latching onto me. I’d been stressing over a relationship that was not improving. That feeling you have when you are pulling as hard as possible but still losing ground. I stopped talking and felt a tremor in my face. I didn’t want to cry in front of him.

“What’s that feeling?” he asked me. “The one you’re having right now.”

A big soup. A big messy pot of emotional soup. I don’t know what it is.

I mumbled something about what I was wishing was different. I was grieving the relationship because it wasn’t at all where or what I wanted, even needed, it to be. It didn’t have any of the trust, support, or honesty that I’d worked hard on cultivating. Despite my efforts at mending, it had fallen more into disrepair than ever.

In my life, I think that _______  (a relationship, my family, my marriage, a goal, etc.) should like like ________. Maybe I filled in those blanks with wholesome healthy words; that does not dictate the reality. That’s the depressing piece.

One sentence brought me to the fulcrum of my feelings.

“It shouldn’t be this way,” I blurted out.

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“Maybe not,” my friend said casually. “But it is.” This, for me, was the moment of holding onto the doorframe with both hands and kicking. I create a lot of unhappiness in myself by tethering myself to ideas and wishes that I think are healthy ideals or good goals, and then I do what all tethered animals do: pull.

Disclaimer: usually it works.

That’s why I run ultra and buy punch cards to yoga sculpt classes, even when I know it’ll make reaching for my coffee painful the next day. I worry about work-life-hobby-hubby balance. I don’t want to sit, cozy and comfortable, and sip sugar because baby, it’s just too cold outside.

However, there has got to be more wisdom and discernment in what you tether yourself to. I’ve learned that just because something aligns with my values (i.e. this thing will be healthy, this will be honest, this will be meaningful, this will be a good experience, this relationship is important to me) it does not validify it.

I just invented that word, but it intuitively fits my argument: you cannot give or take validity to (or from) a thing. A thing is valid or invalid by its own definition, it’s own existence. My feelings are valid because they are my honest feelings, and what you think of them does not make them more or less worthy. That said, however, feelings are simply that: feelings. Not facts, proofs, your feelings, etc. A judgment that I make does not make something more or less valid. Therefore, a desire may be worthy and come from right intent, but sadly that does not equate with something to realistically pursue. Wanting something to be valid does not make it so. I find that deeply unfortunate.

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I was trying to control and take responsibility for a situation that was not self-contained. It was two-sided , more complicated and interwoven than I can figure out, and painful. I just wanted it to be fixed.

So, like a racehorse, I champed at the bit and strained and sweated. A bit in a horse’s mouth guides the horse with pressure and communicates to the horse from the rider. If you put the wrong bit in, it will hurt the horse’s mouth. I didn’t even recognize that I was hurting myself until his words hit me. It shouldn’t be this way. But it is.

Maybe winter shouldn’t be such a terribly frigid bitch. It shouldn’t be so inconvenient, dangerously cold, and sterile. But, it is. And it is only with acceptance that the unhappiness and discomfort evaporates. When I stopped stressing and straining so hard to change an immutable thing, I could observe it open-mindedly.

I still grieve that it isn’t what I wanted or needed, sometimes quite poignantly, but that is no longer the final word. And, in some cases, you can find something of value.

Kandinsky, one of my favorite artists, said everything starts with a dot. That’s been stuck in my head. I think this idea is perhaps just the dot marking the creation of bigger ideas about acceptance, about worth, desires and needs.

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