“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
Winter—both climatic and metaphorical—comes whether we want it to or not, and it often overstays its welcome.
Mostly, I have enjoyed winter since moving to northwestern Ontario twenty-eight years ago. I like to ski through the woods, or snowshoe. I explore the sparkling caves of ice along the shores of Lake Superior. I am in awe of the sharp blue sky on sunny days and the long purple shadows cast across the snow by the moon at night.
Last winter, however, was a spectacularly bone-crushing one. The temperature failed to climb above -25º C (-13º F) for a month. Snow fell in apocalyptic proportions. We scrunched down in our parkas like turtles and pressed our frozen foreheads to the wind. Our batteries froze. Our tires stayed square. Cracks snaked across our windshields. I skied on May 3, for crying out loud.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” The quote—Au milieu de l’hiver, j’appre-nais enfin qu’il y avait en moi un été invincible—comes from the Nobel Prize in Literature winner Albert Camus’ essay, “Return to Tipasa” (1952). Camus describes revisiting Tipasa, Algeria—a place of great joy in his youth—in his search for renewed inspiration and sense of purpose. He acknowledges the “sheer madness . . . [of] return[ing] to the sites of one’s youth and try[ing] to relive at forty what one loved or keenly enjoyed at twenty.” The essay begins with winter in Algiers, which for Camus had previously been the “city of summers.” He tells of rain that “wet the sea itself,” the “apparently inexhaustible sky,” and constant downpours, “viscous in their density.”
In “Return to Tipasa,” Camus is not writing about the weather but about his inner experience of feeling lost, disheartened, and uninspired, and the longing to rekindle his passion for justice and meaning.
In Canada, where every conversation begins with the weather, the seasons are perfect metaphors by which to contemplate one’s spiritual journey. Even if winter where you live is not a season of Algerian downpours or northern blizzards, there are seasons in every life when, like Camus, it feels like we’ve lost our way, our passion.
There are times when life feels like winter—Canadian, not Algerian, winter—frozen, still, lifeless. And not the kind of winter that finds your spirit carving down Whistler Mountain or soaking in hot springs on a starry night of the soul. Here I am speaking of the bleak mid-winter. Times when a monochromatic blanket of stillness descends upon us. Times when we feel stuck in drifts of failure, boredom, or exhaustion. Times when we are spiritually acquainted with the barrenness of winter. Times when our tires are spinning, when we feel stuck, when we wonder if spring will ever come.
At those times, I pray that I can trust the winter the way a tree trusts the winter: above the ground, trees are fully dormant in winter but beneath the frozen soil their roots are storing energy, gaining strength and even growing—all in order to sustain the observable life of the tree. During the winters of my soul, I want to slow down—just like the visible part of the tree—and trust in the invincible and invisible summer at work within me.
Where I live there are those who get out into winter. They ski, skate, ice-fish, and bundle up and go walking with a friend on starry nights. And, there are those who barricade themselves inside against it. Those who embrace rather than resist winter tend to enjoy it more.
While we cannot control when it will come or end, we can welcome the invitation of the winters of life to slow down, pay attention to the unique beauty of the season, get out into it, share a bowl of soup with friends, rest more, and trust the invincible summer within.