Parson to Person: “Winter and Hope” Jan. 1, 2021

I never really knew winter until I moved to Wisconsin. The first year I was here I remember thinking, Gee, it sure gets cold here. Then someone told me gently that we had just had a mild winter.

They were right. The next year we had over a week of 20 degrees below zero. (This was not including the wind-chill factor!) When the temperature finally went above zero I remember rejoicing–everyone did! I later thought: It’s pretty weird to be celebrating zero-degree weather.

I’m used to Wisconsin winters now, of course, having lived here longer than anywhere else in the country–and I actually prefer our climate: I enjoy the colored leaves in fall, and I look forward to the winter snow. But mostly I like the fact that our weather changes. (This is why I would tire of living in a place like Hawaii, where the difference between one season and another is about five degrees.) Everything is a little more intense in¬†Wisconsin, and you really appreciate that cup of hot cocoa so much more when there’s a blizzard outside.

There may be a spiritual truth here as well. Many of us feel that our country has gone through a long blizzard–a cold spell, if you will, not only in health but in our nation’s values and priorities. If so, I urge you not to give up your struggle for what you believe is right and just, or succumb to the cold. We were made for such times as these, and the world still needs to hear a voice for compassion and tolerance. Besides, the message of winter is always hope. We can live through almost any winter if we remember the light we prize (however dimly it may shine in the present moment).

Hope, I believe, is part of what makes us human. When most other animals suffer, they just suffer, with nothing added to the suffering. When humans suffer, they know that there may be an end, and that makes their suffering just a little different. Most animals live through winter never knowing the sun will return. We live with the hope of spring, and the winter is changed thereby. Perhaps Emily Dickinson put it best in her Poem #254, which I quoted in my P 2 P column last June:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tunes without the words

And never stops–at all.

On this day, New Year’s Day, I wish you all not just a happy new year, but a challenging one. May you have a fine mixture of snow and hot chocolate, icicles and warm huddles, weighty gloom and that “thing with feathers.”

Which, again, is another way of saying…

peace and unrest,

tony