Winter always finds me wanting to hibernate. A part of my brain follows the skunks, bees, and chipmunks underground to join them, sleepily, in their places of refuge. I chalk it up to being born on Groundhog’s Day. Every year on February 2 I tried in vain to convince my parents that I had seen my shadow first thing on my birthday and needed to crawl back under my sheets.
I’m not sad in the winter months; no melancholy takes hold to darken my soul. It’s more that a portion of my brain and personality power down for a bit. The words don’t come as quickly and there is less hop to my walk. My mind cannot override the siren’s call of the setting sun as it, too, seems to prefer more sleep in these months, choosing to give the moon its fair time to shine.
I’m trying to decide whether to chastise or congratulate myself for falling victim to this predictable rhythm. When, exactly, does self-compassion turn to self-indulgence? Where is the line between self-care and selfishness, or even laziness? Am I being self-aware? Or excusing what may be a lack of fortitude?
For certain we could call it “mild seasonal affective disorder.” But is that necessarily bad? Were it more severe, antidepressants or uv lamps may be prescribed. I could quickly call it a “defect” and either give into it or fight it valiantly with a regiment that doubtlessly would include a strict diet and plenty of exercise. Either path easily leads to a sense of shame for being defective or lacking strength. The all-American way is to see fragility as a weakness and strength as…well…that one is self-explanatory.
But moments of fragility are fundamental to human nature. We congratulate a widow for being “strong” when she doesn’t display her grief and say “she isn’t doing well” when she cries openly. We deem the fragility of grief as a weakness that must be combated as surely as should be a failure to say “no” to that second donut in the office break room.
Perhaps my fragility in winter is essential to my hyper-productivity the rest of the year? March to November, I am a workhorse, able to knock out a double-share of work in a day. But December to February, I find the legs of my brain mired in mud. There is never enough sleep or rest. My productivity drops, not failing, only slowing. I always push through the sluggishness in December because Christmas is my favorite holiday season and, with three children, there is more fun to be had than jingles in a bell.
This year, my dear husband recommended we go to the mall on December 26. The poor man had no way of knowing what wrath would befall him for such a suggestion. Admittedly, I’m very good at masking my exhaustion and exasperation. I informed him that never again is he allowed to mention plans for December 26 as that is the day in the holiday season that keeps my feet moving. It is my day to crash and burn. The wrapping paper may lay where it falls and the remnants of Santa’s cookies may stay on the coffee table, crumbs and all, with his half-empty can of Coke. (Y’all, we take Coca-Cola seriously in this Georgia household and Santa will be most disappointed if he finds milk instead of “the real thing” on Christmas Eve. How else can he find the strength to push through his fatigue to put 4,000 stickers on that Hot Wheels garage?)
Animals hibernate to conserve energy during the winter months so that, come spring, life can take hold of them and run them ragged for the next eight months. I like being run ragged by life. I like being over-scheduled in the sunny months, running headlong into adventure and joy. I like the feeling of being tackled by the sun in the middle of a field, demanding that I glory in its rays before jumping up again to take on the next big thing.
But not right now, not in these short, last days of January, when it may be 50 degrees today but tomorrow won’t see much above freezing, promising to turn the rain to ice, laying a solid foundation for the snow to follow. Today I think I’ll glory in the sleepiness of my cells, tuning in to the microscopic lullaby my body seems to sing, making my mind drift in and out of attention.
Sleep, baby, sleep,
Our cottage vale is deep:
The little lamb is on the green,
With woolly fleece so soft and clean–
Sleep, baby, sleep.
Sleep, baby, sleep,
Down where the woodbines creep;
Be always like the lamb so mild,
A kind, and sweet, and gentle child.
Sleep, baby, sleep.
“Sleep, baby, sleep.” The lambs have not yet arrived around these parts but I feel the sway of the cradle, all the same, and lulling of a momma’s praise. Sleep, baby, sleep, for yesterday demanded much and tomorrow is wide open. Sleep, baby, sleep.
May you grant yourselves freedom in your own moments of fragility. May you lay down to rest when your body beckons, free of shame and guilt. There is, indeed, strength in fragility, for it is in those moments when we find our souls both purged and restored.