Every winter – usually sometime toward the end of February – I begin to ask myself how in the world I ended up in Connecticut. I meander through my mind and the chain of events that brought me here, and I always come to the same conclusion: this is where I belong. But it doesn’t make winter any shorter.
As a native Texan, I doubt that the kind of winters I experience in the Northeast will ever be easy for me. In fact, I’ve noticed they aren’t even easy for the people who have lived here all their lives. Just about every year they say, “That was a tough winter!” Even when tough is normal, it is still tough.
What I like most about winter is the way we all get through it together. It’s rare to be out shoveling snow alone. There’s always a neighbor or two out, suffering along with you. You always have something to discuss with strangers at the store. We ask each other, “Are we going to make it?” or we just call out across the street some quick word of commiseration as we dash to and from our cars (if you can “dash” across an icy driveway). I’ll always remember a sweet moment after Mass one Sunday when I saw a priest lean down and encourage one of his elderly parishioners: “You’ll only need that fleece for about one more week.”
Another thing I like about winter is that it ends. When the warmth of spring hits, we all find our way outside – to the beach, to the park, or we hit a trail somewhere. Here we find camaraderie too. We got through it together. We did our time, we endured, we never really lost hope that there would indeed come a day when we could leave the fleece jacket at home. We feel we earned this beautiful day.
Perhaps it is simply my own determination to find some meaning in the personal challenge that winter poses for me, but I find winter to be a profound metaphor for the natural cycles of suffering that we endure in life, and for the Paschal Mystery itself. Of course this isn’t an original idea – but now that I’ve actually lived through what I can honestly call a “hard winter” – now I really get it.
I treasure three seasons in Connecticut, and I endure one. The beauty of the other three seasons is only enhanced by my memories of winter, by the ways winter has influenced and changed me. And in this I am reminded that the Risen Christ still bore – still bears – the wounds of crucifixion (Lk. 24:39; Jn. 20:25). The victorious Lamb worshiped in the Book of Revelation is the Lamb who was slain (Rev. 5). And this is as it should be. Some wounds, forged in the toughest of times, should never be forgotten – especially those which bring forth new life. No, we never forget about winter here in the Northeast. Winter is part of who we are. But we know and we believe that even the hardest winter leads to spring – always has, always will.