On Walden and Wintering

My blog turned one year old this past week. I renewed my minimal subscription fee to keep this site active on faith that I would find inspiration to get some thoughts down again before too long. For me, this new year has been a time of stepping back and observing, listening, reflecting, and reading. I haven’t had words to share, only thoughts to process. I’ve kept away from social media as a way to cut out some of the extra noise and stimuli. Nearly a year of working through a computer has made me weary of screens in my down time. It has been, and continues to be, a worthwhile and healthy break for me.

I remember as an 11th grader in high school, over 30 years ago, being fascinated by Thoreau’s experience at Walden Pond. I’m sure the references made in Dead Poet’s Society contributed to that at the time, as so many of my generation were moved by that film. The whole idea of boiling down the essentials and intentionally taking in “all the marrow of life” appealed to me greatly.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”

Henry David Thoreau

As we turn the calendar to March tomorrow and mark a full year of living through the pandemic, it occurs to me that we have all been forced into the woods in a sense this past year. Life has certainly been driven into a corner! This time has been frustrating, uncomfortable, uncertain, and for many, utterly devastating. On the other hand, it has also been an opportunity not entirely unlike Thoreau’s to filter the nonessentials and reevaluate the terms of our own lives and how we wish to live them. On my better days, I have tried to embrace the latter and take advantage of the unique opportunity afforded to those of us living through this time in history. “Living is so dear,” I imagine most would agree that 2020-2021 has made us appreciate life and the things we may have taken for granted more than ever.

My highest form of self-care has long been reading. Turns out, when I don’t fritter mindless hours away scrolling Facebook, I can get through a good 1-2 books per week even during the teaching year and not just during my summer and work break binges. Who knew? I’m ending February on my 8th read of 2021, and taking that time for myself each day has greatly enriched this often turbulent new year. I started the year with Wintering by Katherine May. The subtitle drew me to this one: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. It is a deeply engaging account of the author’s leaning in to the more harsh seasons of life and gleaning wisdom from the ways various cultures have “wintered” through the ages. I found it comforting and profound.

“In our winter, a transformation happened. We read and worked and problem-solved and found new solutions. We changed our focus away from pushing through with normal life and towards making a new one. When everything is broken, everything is also up for grabs. That’s the gift of winter: it’s irresistable. Change will happen in its wake, whether we like it or not. We can come out of it wearing a different coat.”

Katherine May

Like May, I have used this Covid-19 experience during the past couple of months to draw inward with purpose. I’ve asked questions like, How do I want to reshape my life when some sense of normalcy returns? What boundaries do I need to set to honor my core values going forward? Which parts of my life no longer serve me, or others, or my faith well? These important questions are proving to be highly beneficial and clarifying. I am grateful to have the gift of time to process them. I was nowhere near this headspace one year ago in my day to day flurry of activity. This time, though inconvenient and challenging, has afforded me the luxury of living deliberately.

“Traveling a terric distance.” Indeed. And those last two sentences! Who doesn’t love Mary Oliver?

My deepest personal sadness this past year has been for my teenage children. Watching their young worlds be stripped of so much that makes life full and joyful for them during such a formative time is painful. A year for a teenager can feel more like a decade for an adult, at least in my estimation. Ultimately, I trust they will both weather this storm and be better for it. But pandemic parenting is not for the faint of heart. Navigating my own mental health and reactions to the myriad situations totally out of my control feels like a full-time job on its own. Modeling resilience and hope for the two precious humans entrusted to my care on top of that takes a great deal of wisdom and fortitude. Balancing the honesty and vulnerability necessary in order to connect with them, while at the same time maintaining optimism is an often daunting feat. I’ve needed to show myself, them, and everyone around me a whole lot of grace. Again, this is at once worthwhile and difficult.

Highly recommend this one if you tend to be your own harshest critic. It’s nearly impossible to be kind to others if you can’t show kindness to yourself.

Educators like me across the state of California became eligible to receive their Covid-19 vaccines yesterday, and the light at the end of the tunnel feels closer at this point. I still don’t quite see it, but I do feel it. While there is still trepidation, hope is more tangible. I believe in my heart brighter days are ahead though they will almost certainly not play out as I might envision. I heard a quote I really liked the other day, “The only thing you can expect is that things won’t turn out like you expected.” For me this statement is a needed reminder and another comfort. Life in my late-40s feels as if my internal GPS is constantly rerouting. Mercifully, if incrementally, it’s doing so ever more smoothly.

I’ve had a Mary Engelbreit calendar for most every year of the past 3 decades. Please excuse my additions to March 2021, M.E.
Hat tip to another favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert. Onward!

Published by kathryngrace

I am a wife, mom of two, educator, Christ-follower, avid reader, music lover, and social justice seeker who constantly tries to balance my desire to stay informed and involved with my need for sanity and solitude. It's a juggle.

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