Illustration by Hoi Chan / All Rights Reserved

Dear friends, 

I lived in Australia for four years in my twenties and have visited many times since then. It’s a country I love. But, try as I did, I was never able to adapt to December being the summer. The first year, it was a novelty, but as the years went by, I noticed a disconnect: I was so used to December and January being cold months. 

It’s not that I always loved a cold January: for me it can be a month of struggle. But somehow, a swelteringly hot January just made me feel unsure, rather than comforted. The seasonal cycle — summer/winter/autumn/spring — was somehow connected with another way of feeling seasoned: I’d associated experiences with the time, and my expectations of the weather. 

Our On Being episode this week is a re-airing of Krista’s conversation with the British author Katherine May whose book Wintering has been a comfort to so many. “Wintering,” as Katherine describes it, is an experience, not a season, already letting us know that her usage of this term is less about snow, and more about what’s happening in your inner world. “Some winters happen in the sun,” she writes, and “wintering is a metaphor for those phases in our life when we feel frozen out or unable to make the next step, and that that can come at any time, in any season, in any weather; that it has nothing to do with the physical cold.”

For her, “wintering” is an experience of finding yourself out-of-sync, perhaps feeling abandoned, like you’ve fallen through the cracks. Part of the intuition of writing about such experiences, for Katherine May, is community-making: once you speak about such times in your life, you’ll find others, too, have similar seasons. 

Katherine speaks about how a diagnosis of autism at the age of 38 informs so much of her writing. Autism isn’t some rare human experience, she says, and then notes how many people fall through the cracks in recognizing autism: middle class white boys are often the ones who are written about. “If you’re poor, you’re more likely to get a diagnosis of being naughty… if you’re Black, you have very little chance of getting an autism diagnosis at all. And if you’re a girl ... there’s actually quite a lot of active prejudice against the idea that girls can be autistic at all.” The experience of living through this, and eventually getting a diagnosis in her late thirties, led to her “expertise in wintering.”

If, in the annual season of winter, plants and animals learn to adapt — performing extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through — then perhaps we, who go through internal seasons in our lives might also find a way to recognize such seasons and not fight them, knowing that “life is fundamentally cyclical.” Katherine May speaks of sadness as a necessity, both personally and as a parent, and offers wisdom about how important it is to learn how to be with ourselves — and others — in seasons of sadness. This isn’t done alone: “we need friends … who tolerate our gloom, and who allow us to be weak for a while when we’re finding our feet again.” 

Our Poetry Unbound episodes this week portray two experiences of winter: one personal, one seasonal. On Monday’s episode, we heard Yehoshua November’s “2AM, and the Rabbinical Students Stand in Their Bathrobes,” a poem whose title sets the scene for a middle-of-the-night event where firefighters seek the cause of an alarm. It’s not a fire, though; rather a student who is distressed, and who set the alarm as a manifestation of their own worry. The poem’s intuition is to go deeper than just the story, considering the question of God’s presence “amongst those plagued by sadness.” Friday’s poem is Alberto Ríos’ “December Morning in the Desert,” a poem that delights in the shock of cold as the poet observes the sky, the stars, rejoices and recoils at the enormity of the universes’ sound, then locates that within the tiny hearts of bees, and wasps, and moths, and dragonflies. 

Friends, whatever season you are in — in the world, and in your world — we wish you the wisdom of knowing the season, of knowing what’s growing, of company, and kindness. 


Beir bua, 

Pádraig Ó Tuama


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