“Winter is coming.” “The worst is yet to come.” “The next few months will be cold and dark and full of death.” How many times have we read those headlines in the last few weeks?
The winter will almost certainly be cold and dark, and probably also full of death. I don’t deny that truly horrific events may be on the horizon. But last night, I heard some very different sentiments from Rose: “Mom, this is the best thing ever!” “When we sing together, the magic starts!” “The memory of this is already tingling in my brain!”
We were just starting our drive home from her first outdoor rehearsal of the United Girls Choir (UGC), the choral group she joined last year. UGC has been on hiatus since spring but the choir is coming back to life as part of the holiday season with rehearsals and classes online, and a few in-person meet-ups (socially distanced, of course, do I even need to say that?).
How do we want to face this season? Is it a winter of dread or a winter of wonder? A line from an advent prayer echoes in my mind: “Knowing the darkness bears unexpected gifts.” We can focus on the darkness or we can focus on the gifts.
I can’t help but think of the emotions runners feel when heading to the starting line. Racing hard hurts. But Deena Kastor, one of the best distance runners ever, compares race day to Christmas morning. With one key difference: On race day, you get to decide what’s in your present, based on the attitude you bring. Approach the race with gratitude, excitement and confidence, and maybe you’ll find that brand-new bicycle you’ve been longing for. Approach the race with fear and dread, and you may find the equivalent of a lump of coal. Deena doesn’t deny that it’s going to hurt. A lot. But focusing on the negative often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Which is the better way to approach the start? With a heart full of dread, thinking over and over again, this experience is going to be unimaginably awful? Or with an openness to whatever good things the next several weeks might bring?
Hence, my (attempted) approach to the coming winter: Arctic Adventures and the Hygge Project. Note, I do not promise to succeed. I promise to try.
On the Arctic Adventures front, I’m taking to heart both the science that says transmission of the virus is dramatically decreased outdoors and the old saying that there’s no bad weather, only inadequate gear. Thank goodness that my main form of recreation, running, is much more enjoyable outdoors and I already have an embarrassing amount of gear. Not that more gear isn’t good. I’m always in favor of more gear.
Last month I went backpacking and slept in a tent with temperatures in the low 30s. With a couple of Hot Hands in my sleeping bag, I wasn’t even cold. We had an amazing bonfire, gorgeous hiking, and wonderful conversation. What else is possible outside this winter? It turns out choir rehearsal in a pavilion in a park is “the best thing ever.” We enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner on the porch, watching the sun set over the pond. I am looking forward to more winter hiking, more bonfires, lots of running and the challenge of finding the beauty and excitement of colder weather.
At the same time, I also want to implement the Hygge Project. Hygge is a Danish word meaning “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” I plan to revel in the coziness of home. It’s true that we won’t have many visitors inside the house this season. But we have a fireplace, two cats, many blankets and a whole box of candles. We have a basement full of board games and an insane number of cookbooks. These are good ingredients for Hygge.
We also have two children who won’t live with us forever, but who are both home now. This might be Aidan’s last full winter under our roof. I don’t want to spend it being angry and afraid and full of dread. Yes, I expect some hard things this winter and I don’t know quite what they will be. But I am also looking forward to time outside in the winter wilderness and then snuggling down at home. I am looking for the unexpected gifts that darkness brings.