Winter & The Fig Tree

I have never dreaded a winter so terribly. I suppose in part because so much of the year has already been spent in this quarantine quasi-hibernation, the coming lack of sunlight and warmth feels darker than ever.

But, too I have never felt so many parts of myself die than I have this year. Deep down I understand these things have had to die, but still – grief must be walked through. You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it.

As the leaves fall this year, so do many dreams I had for my life, pictures I had in my mind for my future. Because they have not yet been replaced with new ones, I just feel stripped, bare, grey, dead. I don’t want to look outside my window and see that reflected back to me.

My husband, a Minnesotan, loves winter. He knows that the earth must rest. He knows I must rest. He’s a stoic northern German-bred Catholic: The snow must fall; you must put on more layers and good boots; the wind must blow across the prairies. I am all fire-bred emotion. The wind in the hollers never frees things. The storm beats itself against the hills and then there’s a mess to clean up after.

Still, I believe him. I believe the seasons. Storms raged inside me this summer. As fall cools me down, I have simply started dropping things and slowing down. I will soon have to stop. I will soon have to die. I will have to let the wind blow through me. Spring must come eventually, I know. I’m not here to restate Ecclesiastes.

I haven’t been able to pray for days. When I try, I just drop my head. “You know already what’s going on here, and I don’t want to talk about it,” some part of me thinks. I am a word person and my inability to articulate it has only served to make me feel even more death-like.

Tonight, I managed to pray by way of doodle.

It looks worse than I feel — I think. Maybe check with me in a couple of days. But ultimately, I feel boxed in and locked up. I’m not sure I will be free of this feeling before winter ends. Still, finally expressing it somehow felt like God really was listening, really was there. Even if he still seems to not be moving, not be saying anything.

The reason I’m writing any of this at all because I wish more times in my life I had heard people of my faith admit that everything sucks. I get that we are a people of hope, but to look at stories in Scripture or to look at the world around you and not be realistic, to not be honest that death hurts is damaging. To skip to resurrection without descending does me no good right now.

To be clear, all of the major things in my life are okay — some even great! But in many places, I’m hurting, and I’m staring down the darkness of the grave for some indeterminable amount of time, and there’s no going over it or no going under it. It sucks. I didn’t want to wait for this to be resolved to admit it. I didn’t want to pose for a picture, showing off a harvest, smiling and filtered. I wanted to to acknowledge the fallow field, the broken stalks, while I’m here. Because maybe someone else feels this way too, and I just don’t want anyone who does to feel alone.

In the end, hope doesn’t seem meaningful if you aren’t fully capable and willing to admit the reality of the current situation. To hope in good times is to just ride the tailwinds of your own happiness. It’s here, I suppose, in the darkness, in the gentle yet deafening silence of winter, that hope even means anything at all.

Like so many nerdy girls, the following passage from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar has long haunted me:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Since reading this book at 21, I have been terrified of ending up right where I am now — alone in the tree where all the figs have gone. Now that I’m here, all I can do is mourn, admit where I am, and wait for a new season of fruit to come eventually.

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