Mid-Winter BluesPosted: February 8, 2010
My latest “In Good Faith” column in the Hingham Journal explores the tragedies and triumphs of cold weather. But mostly the tragedies.
By the Rev. Tim Schenck
Baby, it’s cold outside. Seasonal Affective Disorder cold. So cold I can’t feel my fingers as I type this sitting on my lounge chair at Nantasket Beach. Okay, I made that up. I’m actually just lying on a towel.
But this New England winter thing, while quaint in postcards of snow-covered white clapboard churches, is getting old. And it’s just the beginning of February, which I’m told, means only five more months of winter. There’s no Groundhog Day around here because Punxsutawney Phil’s northern cousins are as frozen as Ted Williams’ head.
In my first winter up here I’ve been intrigued to see how the natives handle the season. I’ve found that most Hinghamites wholeheartedly embrace it. They ski, they ice skate, they sled, they probably even luge. In other words winter sports rule. I’ve even witnessed a new sport: competitive sidewalk shoveling. Just walk down Main Street after a snowstorm and you can easily spot the winners and losers.
The ski culture is what most took me by surprise. Coming from a mere 3.5 hours south I knew people who enjoyed skiing; they’d take family ski trips occasionally. Here it’s something much larger. There are families I swear I met in the fall that I haven’t seen in months. They’re either skiing every weekend or they’ve entered the Witness Protection Program and they’re living a quiet life in rural Idaho. But I guess skiing is a way of getting through the winter without becoming exceedingly depressed as you dig out your car for the fifth time this week.
The other antidote, for those who can afford it, seems to be flying to a warm climate. Even just a week away mid-winter must be good for the soul. As I pine for balmy days on a tropical island, I find myself listening to my favorite poet/philosopher Jimmy Buffett. His song “Boat Drinks” resonates as he sings “I gotta fly to St. Somewhere; I’m close to bodily harm.” I can relate even with no upcoming vacation scheduled.
The other activity I’ve noticed and can’t comprehend is the abundance of “Polar Bear Swims.” In New York there was a small group of wacky folks who would dash into the Hudson River on New Year’s Day. Around here, though, no one bats an eye at these things. Every group from the PTO to the United Way seems to sponsor this madness. These events are everywhere to the point that they’re viewed as “normal.” Well I’m here to tell you that they’re not. They’re insane!
When I was in seminary in Chicago second-year students were called Middlers; they were in the “middle” of the three-year program. Every Middler, at some point during the winter, experienced what was affectionately referred to as “Middler Meltdown.” You were halfway through the rigors of divinity school; you felt as if you’d never get out; it was winter in Chicago; you were snowed in physically and emotionally; and eventually you’d snap. It took many forms but it was generally accompanied by a spiritual and academic malaise. In time you’d come out of it and get on with life with the help of those who had been through it and knew the warning signs.
And that’s how I assume everyone gets through the winter around here: with the help and humor of the community. If you can’t smile after you’re frozen hair breaks off in a clump, you’ll go nuts. If you can’t appreciate the light of the living God while staring into a roaring fire, your heart needs some thawing out. If you can’t smile after getting pelted with snowballs tossed by your kids (and then plotting revenge), you’ll never make it through the winter.
As I search for spiritual guidance on dealing with “the bleak midwinter” there’s one source that’s not so helpful: the Bible. While there are actually a few verses that mention snow – usually of the “white as snow” variety – the accumulation levels weren’t great in ancient Palestine. Certainly not enough to go skiing. And Jesus walks on water; he doesn’t ice skate over the Sea of Galilee.
But one of my favorite passages from the prophet Isaiah both includes snow and helps us keep our own lives in perspective: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as rain and snow fall from the heavens and return not again, but water the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth, seed for sowing and bread for eating, so is my word that goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty; but it will accomplish that which I have purposed, and prosper in that for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:9-11). Time to go put on a few more layers.