Despite the dawn of a new year, how many of us can say that we truly love the months of January and February?
For me, they are the cruelest months of the year. They are the heart of winter: the coldest months, particularly if the groundhog sees its shadow.
The recent cover illustration for The New Yorker magazine perfectly illustrated my feelings. Taking the image of January calendar, each day highlighted a new fatigue. Darkness. Cold. Colorless. Illness. A repetition of images summed up in two words: “Still January.” Winter is the never-ending season – or at least it feels that way.
The monotony of a colorless existence. That’s how I would describe these months. Sunlight, when it is allowed to break through, cuts the dull grayness and reminds us that there will be an end. Those are the days I long for vitamin D and warmth.
Last week, while New Orleans suffered the wrath of the cold, St. Louis was relatively mild (welcome to the Midwest, where the seasons change dramatically and without warning). We were in our backyard, reveling in the sunlight and throwing sticks for our dog.
For the first time since the beginning of the school year, our dog galloped towards the chain fence before slumping to the ground and showing her belly. Our neighbor had emerged from the house and sauntered over.
In between belly rubs and puppy snuggles, we exchanged pleasantries. And what she said struck me: We hadn’t seen each other for months. The cold drives us inside. Certainly, we’d seen each other in passing: The hurried shuffle from the car to the house. But we hadn’t stopped to say hello in quite some time. This was in stark contrast to the summer weekends: We’d both be out in the back, tending to the garden, fussing with some project outside or barbecuing with friends.
Perhaps that’s the cruelty of winter: We become isolated. As the temperatures drop and the chance for ice or snow increases, all of me freezes. I look to my couch, with its pile of heated blankets, and there’s nothing in the world I’d rather do than curl up with hot chocolate and a good book.
Or, maybe, the cruelty lies in the state of transition. Particularly as the cold goes on and the monotony of the season wears us down, we begin anticipating the spring. We look for signs of change – like our friendly groundhog. As we headed into Mass last weekend, my husband stopped to reach up to one of the trees lining the sidewalk. It was cold, and my own desire was to get inside to the warmth – talk about that hurried shuffle. As I turned to hurry him along, I noticed how excited he was: buds were forming. The trees thought it was spring. This is what makes the winter bearable. As I practice patience and bide my timing, waiting for it to be over, I have hope in spring coming.
Waiting without anticipation is something like drudgery: “Still January.” But waiting with expectation, anticipation and hope is something that we, as Catholics, have learned well. We are experienced waiters: we have only to look at our experiences of Advent and Lent.
Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.