The cold grows colder, even as the days grow longer, February’s mercury vapor light buffing but not defrosting the bone-white ground, crusty and treacherous underfoot. This is the time of year that’s apt to put a hammerlock on a healthy appetite, old anxieties back into the night, insomnia and nightmares into play; when things in need of doing go undone and things that can’t be undone come to call, muttering recriminations at the door, and buried ambitions rise up through the floor and pin your wriggling shoulders to the wall; and hope’s a reptile waiting for the sun. ~Bill Christopherson “February”
Just when you think it is safe to go out in shirt sleeves and sweats, subzero wind chill blasts through your bravado and reminds you February is still WINTER on the calendar and in reality.
February can be a month of regret and recriminations, of “should-haves” and “should-not-haves” while waiting, frozen and immobile, for spring to bring us back to life. Like cold-blooded creatures, we need the sun to warm us up so we can move again. This sun today, bright as it is, only lights up our flaws and holes – no warmth whatsoever.
And it’s not just me struggling to stay upright in the storm. Our old red barn, waiting for its spring date with a talented rehab carpenter, hasn’t many roof shingles left after this latest blow, and a recent partial wall collapse in the wind prompted a neighbor to ask if we had meant to create a new door into our barn.
The old barn is kind of like how I feel at times: lacking a decent foundation, a bit shaky on my underpinnings, a lot sagging in the middle, broad in the beam and drafty where I shouldn’t be.
So much to be shored up, fixed, patched and restored. So much need for a talented Carpenter who knows how to mend and strengthen the broken and fallen.
They work with herbs and penicillin. They work with gentleness and the scalpel. They dig out the cancer, close an incision and say a prayer to the poverty of the skin.
…they are only human trying to fix up a human. Many humans die.
But all along the doctors remember: First do no harm. They would kiss if it would heal. It would not heal.
If the doctors cure then the sun sees it. If the doctors kill then the earth hides it. The doctors should fear arrogance more than cardiac arrest. If they are too proud, and some are, then they leave home on horseback but God returns them on foot. ~Anne Sexton “Doctors” from The Awful Rowing Toward God.
Let me not forget how humbling it is
to provide care for a hurting person
and not be certain that what I suggest
will actually work,
to be trusted to recommend the best option
including tincture of time,
wait and see,
try this or that.
Like other physicians who tumble off
at a full gallop, having lost balance
between confidence and humility,
I sometimes find myself unseated and unsettled,
returning on foot to try again to make a difference.
I was your rebellious son, do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.
So complete has your forgiveness been I wonder sometimes if it did not precede my wrong, and I erred, safe found, within your love,
prepared ahead of me, the way home, or my bed at night, so that almost I should forgive you, who perhaps foresaw the worst that I might do,
and forgave before I could act, causing me to smile now, looking back, to see how paltry was my worst, compared to your forgiveness of it
already given. And this, then, is the vision of that Heaven of which we have heard, where those who love each other have forgiven each other,
where, for that, the leaves are green, the light a music in the air, and all is unentangled, and all is undismayed. -Wendell Berry “To My Mother”
…and to think we enter this world screaming,
begging to be held and fed,
already needing forgiveness that sometimes,
comes from our entangled imperfect parents
who worry over and juggle and guide us
and who themselves, once prodigal,
weep too with the burden
of feeling unforgiven,
dismayed because they won’t get it right
no matter how hard they try
Thank God for the promise
of this Heaven of which we have heard
where Love freely given, never earned,
rises resplendent, in full bloom,
from earth’s fallen ashes.
Things: simply lasting, then failing to last: water, a blue heron’s eye, and the light passing between them: into light all things must fall, glad at last to have fallen. ~Jane Kenyon, “Things”
Things we think last don’t.
Light passes between things and us,
a pathway illuminated to something lasting.
We will follow,
falling, failing to last
until lifted at last.
Gladly we become light
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief No everlasting hills I see; My life is in the fallen leaf: O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a frozen thing, No bud nor greenness can I see: Yet rise it shall–the sap of Spring; O Jesus, rise in me. ~Christina Rossetti from “A Better Resurrection”
I remember panicking as a small child when my mother would help me put on or take off a sweater with a particularly tight turtleneck opening, as my head would get “stuck” momentarily until she could free me. It caused an intense feeling of being unable to breathe or see, literally shrouded. I was trapped and held captive by something as innocuous as a piece of clothing.
That same feeling still overwhelms me at times, and not only when I wrestle with pulling something snug over my head. I’m still held captive, but not by a turtleneck. I’m frozen in a winter of my flaws and deficiencies, bruised and fallen and fading in my struggles to be freed.
There is no salvage without new life quickening within me. There is no freedom without spring sap flowing, His life blood rising in what is left of my dried husk.
And rise it shall — the confining shroud discarded and cast aside.