On the last morning of October, we awoke to discover snow had fallen overnight. While gentle snowflakes had dusted the earth for a few weeks prior, this was the first real snowfall of the season.
From one day to the next, the natural world surrounding us went from a leafy golden autumnal to a crystalline snow globe, with temperatures well below freezing.
While winter can be wonderland pretty, I’ve long despised it. In my corner of the world, winter lasts a good five or six months and heralds dangerously icy sidewalks and bitter temperatures that can dip 35 degrees below zero. With 15 hours of daily darkness by the solstice, winter means bone-chilling blackness. I used to start in mid-September counting down the days until spring.
But this year, I’ve determined to see winter in a new light, to embrace it with joy.
Having lost so many important physical abilities I used to take for granted would always be present (ie easily walking, driving, going hiking, doing stairs, or speaking more than for short periods), has shown me how precious a gift our lives are.
My spirit having undergone a transformation of realizing that each and every day is precious, I want to make each of my days count, to spend well the minutes, hours, days, and years that God blesses me to live. I no longer want to count down the days until spring. I feel a quickening in my soul to live fully… even in the winter.
None of us has any guarantees about tomorrow. Not one of us can say with one hundred percent certainty that tomorrow we will have the same abilities we have today. Even more sobering, tomorrow may dawn without the people we love still with us, or us with the people we love.
But what we can do is live today with intention, meaning, and purpose. We can live out our lives like a dance that we know will come to an end- and so give ourselves fully to each component in the dance.
What that dance of living fully looks like is unique to each of us.
For me, it means a dual focus on living a life of peace and joy in spite of my challenges and in finding ways to contribute to sharing love with those God brings across my path.
I am often inspired in this by the wise words of Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa):
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love… There are many people who can do big things, but there are very few people who will do the small things.”
For me, it is still very much a learning process, and there are often times that I fall completely short in my aspirations towards peace.
The first several days after the seasons changed and the snow fell, peace was very far from my spirit. My thoughts veered toward the negative, sapping my energy and leaving very few spoons left in my spirit to contribute to those around me. (If you’re interested in the spoon theory, you can read about it here).
When my sense of peace takes flight, there is often an underlying reason. This time it was fear of the winter and what it might mean for me on a practical level as a person living with mobility disabilities. Last winter was very hard, and I don’t want to repeat that experience this winter.
You see, in the summers I ride Sophie (my power wheelchair) around the neighbourhood, which allows me a sense of freedom and the ability to leave my home independently and ride to places like my favourite neighbourhood café, bakery, and organic stores, as well as on paved ravine pathways. etc.
Last autumn, I took the advice of Sophie’s Californian maker and parked her in the garage for eightmonths (The guy we contacted was utterly astounded when told I live in Canada and asked if it would be safe to ride Sophie over ice and in temperatures as low as minus 35).
But by parking Sophie, I was trapped in my home for almost the entire winter, other than short trips to stores and the like on weekends with Eric, or to medical appointments with my parents. That isolation inside my home was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever faced, far more challenging than learning to live with mobility and speech disabilities.
I made it through that winter isolation by inviting a lot of people over to visit, hosting some groups in the house (including a GYSD group for creative people), and doing various creative projects. But it wasn’t easy.
As soon as the weather warmed up slightly, Eric dragged an old lawn chair to our front lawn, where I’d sit in the sunshine, as happy as the first crocus of spring. In May, we got Sophie running again- and all through the summer I was incredibly happy on the little Sophie Rides I’d take.
And so last week when the snow again fell, I felt myself marooned by fear of what the coming next several months might look like. I’m not a person who enjoys being trapped in my home.
So I made a few decisions. The first decision is to push Sophie’s limits as much as I can. I’m going to keep driving her for as long as absolutely possible this winter (at least until the weather dips below minus 15 and/ or the snow builds too high up to navigate safely, or it gets too icy). I am hoping this results in maybe just three or four months of parking Sophie this year instead of eight months like last year.
So far, Sophie has done exceptionally well in the snow and freezing temperatures. I’ve enjoyed some special rides over the past week, including some night time rides that made me reminisce of open air sleigh rides my family would take each Christmas season long ago when I was a child. (Most of the photos on this blog post have been taken during my snowy Sophie rides of the past week).
Because I also know that there is going to come a day this winter when Sophie again gets parked in the garage, I cherish this time to be outside enjoying the winter even more.
But even more importantly, I’ve made the decision to remember a powerful lesson my situation has taught me. This is that joy and peace can be separate from the circumstances of one’s life. If we can choose to embrace a spirit of peace and joy in our hearts, then we can live fully no matter what we are facing in our lives. However, if we tie our joy and our peace to things that can change- such as our health, careers/ education, life circumstances, people or relationships, or the material items we possess- then our joy and peace will be tenuous, always open to fluctuation.
When we open our souls to embrace peace no matter what our days bring, it is like cracking open a nondescript rock and finding the most beautiful gleaming gem inside. To live a life of peace is an incredible gift, one to be cherished.
And so, this winter I’m choosing to embrace peace.