Monday, February 10, 2014

A Winter Update

“Nothing can be possessed but the struggle. All our lives are consumed in possessing struggle but only when the struggle is cherished and directed to a final consummation outside of this life is it of any value.”
-Flannery O'Connor

It is freezing outside. I'm cozy enough on the second floor of this silent library, but the shiver I see in the trees makes its way to me through the nearby window. This past week has brought some of the coldest temperatures we have ever experienced and has left a bright blanket of snow on everything. Contrasting with this white is the darkness of bare trees shooting out of the ground, reaching up to the heavens. Today those heavens are concealed, and a subtle fog hides the details of outstretched branches, but I know they're reaching. Branches maintain this pose all year long, but in the winter, with all the leaves dead and gone, they can't hide their strain. Nothing can cover their twisted reach upward.

This year feels like one in which much straining has been laid bare. It has been a year thick with substance and rich with experiences. Celebratory occurrences have carried more significance this year. Recently Olivia was marveling at the fact that, the more she learns about numbers, the more difficult it is to understand what she knows. This feels true of many things.

Brett and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary and were able to spend a lovely fall weekend on Berry College's campus where we began our fascination with and love for one another. When I shared my gratitude to him for being the strong one, keeping us moving along so beautifully, his surprised response, “I've always thought of you as the strong one,” seemed to perfectly embody the mutual appreciation we have for one another. Olivia, while continuing to love life and learning, searches to find what is good and familiar in the midst of a socially and academically rigorous 3rd grade school year. Mae, still the dancing free spirit, pulls to connect her joy and goodness to a new understanding of difficulties and hardships. Brett, as department chair and professor, reaches for new ways to view occupational challenges, to lift his workplace and students to a new level of rigor and support. And I keep trying to seize these moments, dealing with them as creatively in real life as I strive to deal with them on the page. But there are some moments I'd like to rewrite.

Our friend Will Gray lost his battle with cancer this summer. He and his wife Angie were our neighbors on Martha's Vineyard and accompanied us on our move to Mount Vernon in 2008. Will was 33. It's hard to separate the events of our year from the events surrounding Will's illness and death. We're grateful to have been so affected by the life of this friend, and we join Angie in feeling the presence of his absence.

My grandmother, Zilpha Sharp also passed away this fall. We'd all come together to celebrate her 100th birthday just two months before we gathered again to attend her funeral. Her life was one of tremendous service and love, and her example is one we will spend the rest of our lives hoping to follow.

And so through loss and struggle, we feel connected to those bare trees and their reaching. Understanding feels hidden in the fog and the snow, but Mae would direct us to wonder. Recently, overcome by what she saw in a new snowfall, she began an extemporaneous poem of sorts:

Nature is quiet and beautiful.
The things that happen outside are more rightful than respectful.
Nature is beautiful because it is grateful.
It uses its breath to move the snow from here to there.
It makes beautiful sounds like birds and bunnies and giraffes.
Like us, it sometimes likes to hibernate. Like bears and squirrels.

We often spend much of our year hibernating. It's a strong temptation to simply remove ourselves from this harsh winter and stay in the interior, all huddled together, feeding off each other's warmth. But we know to push ourselves outside of ourselves. We're committed to cherishing the struggle and directing it toward its final consummation. Please step outside, bring your shiver, and join us in reaching upward.

With Much Love,
Brett, Elizabeth, Olivia, and Mae Wiley