Winter’s Promise

Each year, as I struggle through winter, I wonder when I’ll remember to buy a sunlight therapy light. Maybe next year, I tell myself as I count down the days until spring.

Just before Christmas, literary aficionados everywhere lost a brilliant writer: Joan Didion, whose life was etched with an unthinkable series of tragedies. This weekend, huddled on my sofa, under a blanket of blankets, I read Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking— her searing autobiographical account of tragically losing her husband (while her daughter was in an ICU) and the year of grief that followed. The irony of reading this on the quintessential gloomy winter day was not lost on me. I longed for a happy ending to Didion’s discourse—for a light to penetrate the bleakness. Learning more about Didion’s life, however, I understand that, according to the doctors who treated her during a stint in a psychiatric hospital many decades ago, Didion’s was a “fundamentally pessimistic, fatalistic and depressive view of the world around her.” How, then, could one emerge from grief? As Didion herself said, “No eye is on the sparrow.”

How hard it must have been, then, for her to weather the tragic winter. Perhaps it’s the eternal optimist in me— or my belief in that eye watching the sparrow, but as the weekend’s flakes grew angrier, swirling outside my window as if they would never end, deep down inside I knew they would. The days will grow longer until, in the end, crocuses and daffodils will emerge laughing, and the sun on our faces will tease that we will never feel cold again. We need Didion’s words because they so accurately capture grief— bottomless and wrenching— but as her husband told her, you “have to feel the swell change” in the tide. I have to believe that is the path back to life.

These bleak winter days make me return to poetry writing. Here is the latest:

In the brutal, brittle breaking
of weighted wintry twigs,
the Solstice snap reminds me
that under the snowy duvet
lies a promise that spring will come.

In the solitary silence 
of stripped and naked limbs,
donning bleak hoods of darkness, 
growing inside the glacial ground
lies a promise that spring will come.

While hunched against the wind I tread
the dark, haunted hollows
of these fleeting frozen days,
my soul whispers that underneath
lies a promise that spring will come.

And life’s great irony teases
beneath buried flora: 
if my face never felt frost 
would spring’s sun feel as radiant? 
Oh promise me that spring will come.

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