Invincible Spring

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I started writing this blog last week, and abandoned it midstream when Francesca, my baby, woke up crying. I returned to it today, and here’s where it began: Today was a 16 degree February day in New Jersey, where I live. It was the kind of day where the ground is so barren and cold that it’s not hard to forget how rich and green it was just months before. Even more, it’s easy to lose sight of how weeks from now, everything will burst into bloom once again. Sometimes it seems that the winter will never end, but no matter how cold and bleak things appear, spring is sure to return. Just like the seasons, our lives hold periods of sunshine and phases of icy snow. Relationships bloom and wilt.

There are births and deaths, losses and gains, successes and failures. We must learn to honor the cycles of life and embrace them as we do the seasons. In his famous poem, The Layers, twice poet laureate Stanley Kunitz wrote, “In my darkest night, when the moon was covered and I roamed through wreckage, a nimbus-clouded voice directed me: “Live in the layers, not on the litter.” Dire Straits’ song, Why Worry?, has the lyric, “there will be laughter after pain, there will be sunshine after rain, these things have always been the same, so why worry now?” So why do we worry? Why, in times of conflict, turmoil, and strife, do we choose to live on the litter? Why do we fail to recall that the darkest hour is just before dawn, and that out of the ashes, new life is born? It seems that when things go wrong, human nature is to panic; we scuttle and scurry for a way out.

We either try to escape our feelings and put an end to the conflict, or we get bogged down in the pain and lose hope for a brighter tomorrow. At times, when situations are unhealthy and show no true potential for improvement, escape is our best bet. If someone could guarantee me that spring was never coming again—that these frigid days were here to stay, you’d better believe I’d be on the next plane to Miami.

I’m just not an earmuffs and long-johns kind of gal. But, as I said earlier, spring’s-a-coming, as sure as I’ll turn another year older on my next birthday. So then, perhaps the secret to enduring the winter is to dress warmly, drink a lot of cocoa, and keep on the lookout for that first red robin. Buddhists say that the secret to happiness is not avoiding suffering, but rather learning how to suffer well. To suffer well is to dress our hearts warmly; to remember that life’s betrayals, losses, and disappointments are temporary conditions. We must treat ourselves with kindness and care while we suffer, and keep sight of brighter days on the horizon. Today, in fact, was nearly 40 degrees outside, and although snow is in the forecast, the milder weather was a pleasant respite.

As I walked out of my office today with a patient of mine, we agreed that last week’s frigid spell made today feel almost balmly. Perhaps that’s another reason to embrace life’s icy patches. The rough times, when they pass, help us to appreciate the good times that much more. The chill inspires us to turn our faces toward the sun, and when we do, life suddenly feels a little warmer.

By Dr. Marla Cohen 02/12/2007 05:16 PM

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