Every time I visit Chicago, I wish I could stay there. Within the first hour or so after I first visited as a high school senior, I knew I wanted to move to this midwestern city. I wasn’t even lured by the lovely brightness of August in the city, either – it was January, it was cold, and it was miserable compared to Florida, where I lived at the time. But there was something about the people walking with purpose, the busses, the noise and the lights, the museums, the diversity – I wanted to be a part of it. I had to be. It took me two years to get myself there but I did, and when I did, the Windy City became home and I stayed 13 years, only leaving because I had no choice.
I had no desire to move to the college town where I ended up, and for the first five years or so after the move, I took every opportunity to remind myself and anyone in my periphery that I wanted no business with this small town, its football-obsessed culture, fairly limited diversity, and its limited food options. I spent my time annoyed at the police who ticketed people going 5mph over the posted speed limit and frustrated with the fact that whenever I went to stores, they never had what I wanted. Even though I mostly kept my negative opinions to myself (though my poor family was not spared), I constantly remind myself, which was almost worse. I lived a life with an I hate it here I don’t belong here soundtrack.
I wasted a whole lot of time wishing I lived somewhere else and comparing what I had with what I used to have. I mourned my previous life and refused to like what was right in front of me. And in the end, guess who lost the most because of my negative, resistant-to-change attitude? Yup: me.
Until the day I made the conscious choice to love what I had – not what I wish I had – I lived a life colored by discontent and longing. But once I let myself hang the paintings on the walls, and admitted there were aspects of the town I enjoyed and even (maybe) loved, better days soon followed. And now, twelve years in, I acknowledge had it not been for this town, I wouldn’t have met my husband, or the great number of people who we are lucky to call our friends. I would not have embraced the car, yoga or my girls’ school community, all of which enrich my life to such a great degree.
But I am a slow learner, and recently my desire to escape crept up again. It is February, and the clouds – harbingers to the inescapable Michigan winter—have moved in for their 4 to 6 month residency. Earlier in the fall, I was not adapting well to this change and bracing for the inevitable: the many layers of clothes, the constant cold, and the lack of sunshine. I was annoyed by having to wake up in the dark again, and by how I drive my girls to school in near-dark mornings. If anyone even mentioned pumpkin spice anything or – far worse – anything candy cane-coated, my irritation was palpable.
I was heading headfirst into the rabbit-hole of negativity until it occurred to me that the reason why so many of us find the shortened days and cooler temperatures so offensive is because we are so disconnected from any sort of natural seasonal rhythm. Unlike most animals, we humans do not modify our behavior significantly along with the seasons. Instead of using winter to recharge and slow down like the rest of nature does, we force ourselves to move along with our jobs and workouts, ignoring nature’s requests. The result is a complaining body: we get sick, we get stiff at yoga, we get injured running, and we walk around tired. And we compensate by eating too many baked goods and chips, and drinking way too much coffee (ok, maybe that’s just me).
I think in part, my love and longing for Chicago is due to the fact that the city enabled my false sense of continuity: the clouds might have covered the sky, but the city was so bright at all times, that I barely noticed. The busses ran on schedule and the snowplows make made the commute possible. Everything was still available, everything was still open.
Whereas here, in my little college town, winter won’t let you forget it. When the snow comes down – and it will – we will be slowed down, school will close, and we will have snow days. It will be dark outside for days, and we will have to figure out how to keep our home bright inside to fight off the lack of sunshine. We will drive to school and work in the dark, and come home in the dark. And will have to slow down until spring, whether we like it or not. And perhaps this is a gift, after all: a reminder to love what is, and to appreciate is for what it is.
Perhaps, just like I learned to live in a small town, I will learn to welcome the gifts of the cold, dark winters in the Midwest. I will use them to recharge with more meditation and a more yin yoga practice. I’ll welcome the opportunity to go inside and clean the basement – both literally and figuratively. And when the sun comes back our way, I’ll dust off the cars and find the tank tops, and head back out recharged.
But in the meantime, I’m off to Chicago to get a little noise and light therapy.
V.R.M.: Thank you for your wonderful meditation on winter. When I lived in Texas, I felt much the same way about summer. If I can share one thought on something else that works for me in both cold winters and beastly hot summers: Embrace it. In the cold, get outdoors and snowshoe, Nordic ski, skate, sled. In the heat, go for a sunrise bike ride, walk, swim. Take the family, or go alone. Eventually, the sun rises earlier and sets later, and vice versa.
You are so right! I will remind myself of this whenever I am tempted to “go dark” and hibernate. :)