The Brightness of Winter

It is trying to become day. A couple of narrow bands of pink glow weakly against the steely sky and last night’s snow, unspoiled, is brightening, throwing back what little light the night has allowed to sneak through. In winter day has to fight for its time, which is always short.

That is the challenge of winter in New England. For me it is not the cold or snow or ice, whose trials are physical in nature and so seem straight-forward (if not easy) to overcome, but the long nights and penetrating darkness that cloak the season in dread. I watch, helpless, as shadows grow long by mid-afternoon, night greedily grabbing up day’s light, taking away its time. It is my light, too, that winter night tries to take, and my will. I go to sleep early, wake up late.

And yet I like this season despite its darkness. I remember as a child coming home from the sledding hill in the four forty-five darkness (dinner was promptly at five) – wet through from both exertion and repeated rolls in the snow, my cheeks numbing some and my upper lip chapped from my running nose – smiling reflexively at the candles that peaked out of the windows of all of the houses down our street. White and blue, some yellow, and the orange candles that my mother preferred, all conveying warmth and joy, giving light to what otherwise would have been dreadful dark. In January, after Epiphany, it would be that way, cold and black, and I would run home to the warmth of my mother’s kitchen rather than take my time in awe at the beauty of the Advent night. I still smile, can’t help it, on that first night I notice the lights are up and feel again that sense of wonder and hope I had as a child.

Perhaps it is by that wonder that I’ve grown to see winter as less dark than I once did. I can’t deny that winter night lays siege to day, allowing sunlight only a precious few hours to shine. But winter has its own brightness. It is in the form of snowflakes that fall, blessedly, like tiny graces from the Advent sky to cover over the dull brown post-Autumn earth and to bring light to my spirit. Snow: it magnifies the meager sunlight, stoking it and cajoling it to be more, better than it would be alone. Who can deny the intensity of a sun-filled day after a snowstorm? Or how a fresh snow seems to cleanse and illuminate whatever it touches? Winter is not a time of darkness, but a time of respite and renewal and hope. It is the time of grace.

It is day’s time now; night has taken its short leave. The early morning pink has faded, the sky is murky. Last night’s snow still sits on the tree branches, giving them an aura of life; on the ground it is unblemished and luminous despite the sunless sky.  It’s a gray winter day, but a bright one.

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