For most people, myself included, the winter doldrums usually set in about the time the first cold wind blows. Now that I’m on the coast, I don’t experience winter the way I used to in Tennessee, but last January, we did have a few 13 degree days. Despite that, it was 70 on Christmas Day and Snickers got to go for a long walk with me on the beach—and yes, I was barefoot.
Winter signifies so many different things for me, but the biggest thing it signifies is what I refer to as the hibernation period, where I settle in and just let myself rest. I like the feeling of crisp, cold days to be quite honest, because winter also brings dormancy—trees and plants hibernate much like we do, and we see the evidence of it in their bare limbs and dead stems. It’s a time of reflection, really, a perfect time for the observation of where newness can spring forth. Hibernation brings a few extra pounds from all those rich soups I like to make, the feeling that I need to go to bed at 5:30 because it’s dark outside, the anticipation of the first snow, the excitement of digging my warm, leopard-print ugg slippers out of the depths of the closet, and the hope of new things to come.
When I think about winter, one particular thing comes to mind. Back in 2010, my grandmother fell and hit her head when she went out to check the mail one afternoon. As a family, we had noticed personality changes up until that time, but we didn’t really know exactly what was happening until a neurologist did a CT scan of her head and informed us that she had dementia. The bump on the head made that worse and things haven’t ever been the same since. Once she was released from the hospital, we tried to keep her at home as long as we could, each of us taking shifts to stay over with she and her elderly husband. On one of my nights at home, I found myself thinking about her and how quickly things had changed in her world and before I knew it, I was outside standing in my dead flower beds in the bitter cold. I was in my flannel pajamas, but my feet were bare. As I stood there, my feet sank into the shredded mulch, but the earth beneath it was hard and cold. I frantically started pulling up the dead fronds from the lilies that bloom every Spring–pulling, pulling, pulling, throwing them aside in a neat little pile, crying like a baby who needs to be fed, hoping that none of the neighbors were watching the insanity that was ensuing. The tears that poured down my face were for her, yes, but they were also for the cracks that were beginning to form in our family. It’s hard to watch the strongest woman you know become weaker in mind and body, and to say that she was the glue that held our family together is not an understatement.
As I pulled up all the deadness beneath my feet, I began to think of it as pruning: the dead falls away and new things come up in its place; not just in the season of winter, but in the season of our lives as well. For new growth to take place, old things need to be cut back so that the other things blossom bigger and better in the warmer months to come. 2010 wasn’t just the beginning of losing the woman I call Granny, it was also the beginning of recognizing that I no longer wanted to be a wife, that some of the friends I had didn’t value me the same way I valued them, and that there were relationships I needed to cut loose in order to transform into the person I was always meant to be. And right there, smack dab in the middle of that flower bed on a cold, dark, frigid night, transformation began to unfold.
I began spending a lot of time by myself. I frequently sought refuge at a bed and breakfast that I loved in Roanoke, Virginia when I needed room to breathe. I started journaling every thought because it allowed me to get what I was feeling out of my head. I knew what paths I needed to take, but I was deathly afraid of change, so I found myself a therapist and set an intention to seek my own happiness. In three months time, I moved out of the house that never felt like a home, filed for divorce, decided to go back to college, and got my first job in 17 years, which was more rewarding than I ever expected. I also ended the friendships that weren’t fulfilling to me, left organized religion, and fell in love with a man who nearly destroyed me emotionally (I don’t say that lightly, nor do I exaggerate it). And sometimes, when I lay awake at night thinking about the last 7 years, and feeling that thump-thump-thump in my chest, I wonder how in the world my heart has even continued to beat after everything that’s happened…
…it beats because of growth.
…it beats because of perseverance.
…and it beats because I didn’t give up, even when I really, really wanted to.
Navigating through the pruning process isn’t an easy task, however. In order to remove the things that no longer serve us, we have to be willing to take a long, hard look at ourselves as well as the people who surround us—and sometimes, the things we find aren’t pretty at all. Pruning requires a lot of courage and a whole lot of support (ie, everybody needs a Sybil). It also requires thoughtfully thinking things through and choosing the activities and people that mean the most to us. And as we cut away all the things that drain us more than they add value to us, we make way for newer and better things to come forward. I’m not telling you it’s easy because it isn’t. It stings much like a thorn would when it splits into your thumb. Growing emotionally is similar to pruning a plant or a tree: it sometimes dies, never to return again; but most of the time, it blooms with things we never expected and we grow in ways we never thought we would. Deadness keeps us stuck where we are, but pruning allows us to become better versions of ourselves—it’s not only good for us, it’s good for others too, because if we change, it forces everything else to either adapt and change right along with us or to disappear altogether; and sometimes, those things that never grow back where they once were planted are just the blessings in disguise that we never saw coming.
What areas of your life need to be pruned back in order to fulfill your own personal happiness?
What do you need more of? Less of?
If you care to share, please feel free to comment below.
See you next week!