I had to scrape ice off my car windows yesterday morning, before I could go to town. A mid-October frost is normal here; I wasn’t surprised by it. The scraper was already in the car.
Other years this frost would have been one more source of stress in a too-busy life. The advent of winter meant getting up fifteen minutes earlier, or changing my routine somehow to find the extra five to ten minutes needed to clean my car of ice or snow (or both) every morning. Now, I’m not in any hurry, so there’s no stress.
Friends and family are already bemoaning the frost on Facebook. Winter is coming. Yes, it is. Yes, the days will shorten, snow will fall, life will get more difficult. On the other hand, there are no mosquitoes, no grass to cut or weeds to pull, no pollen allergies or need for sunscreen, and people are friendlier and more helpful to one another in the winter, in the face of shared adversity. Life moves from the patio to the fireside, but the beer, friendship, conversation and laughter are just as good in either place.
First frosts aren’t always about temperature. First frosts can be the first gray hair, the first twinge of arthritis, the first child leaving home. The first promotion of someone younger over you; the first time you can’t open a jar lid. The first pair of readers. The first death of someone you love, or someone you work with. Some first frosts are light, and some are hard freezes. But just as our attitude towards snow and ice and freezing temperatures affects how we see winter, our attitude towards aging affects how we age. There are some things we can’t change, but there are many we can. When my father’s eyesight began to finally fail him in his late nineties, he could have mourned his inability to read his beloved history books; instead, he asked for an iPAD and learned to use iBooks, increasing the font size until he could read the words.
It will snow soon. The first falls will be light, and will need no shovelling, and maybe not even a scattering of salt. But at some point it will really snow. Snow shovelling is my job, mostly, due to BD’s back problems. Last year, I was less than six months post-major-abdominal-surgery and still on lifting restrictions. But with an ergonomically-designed snow shovel, and moving only small amounts in each scoop, the pathways got done, and I did myself no damage, and probably some good. It took me longer. Other things didn’t get done. But it was a priority. Winter is good at sorting out what really has to be done, and what doesn’t; what is worth the time and energy, and what can wait, or go by the wayside altogether.
Winter, aging or serious illness teach many of the same lessons. Both summer and winter are beautiful, but they both ask and give different demands and different gifts. Like everything else in this world and this life, both demands and gifts are transient. We do best when we appreciate that simple fact.