I just spent a week in Iceland. Many questioned me in disbelief when I told them of my plans — Iceland, in winter?! Each time, I’d smile and nod and go into some spiel of how the northern lights are only visible during winter and how it wouldn’t be that cold. But it was cold. Of course it was cold. It was Iceland — an island north in the arctic circle in the dead of a January winter. While it was nothing like the winters of far north Scandinavia or even Canada, my hands were rendered useless after only a couple minutes of exposure — and warming them up again was a slow, physically painful process.
And yet something about this cold landscape called to me.
I am drawn to contrasts. To the desert and the desolate. To the cold, frozen tundra. For even in the desert, brilliant species of cacti thrive. Even in an Icelandic winter, emerald moss sprawls itself on the rugged terrain and grass emerges beneath the snow and ice. Waves crash on the frozen, rocky shores, and the mountains sparkle with dustings of powdered sugar snow against periwinkle skies. Winter can be harsh. But life emerges despite its harshness.
2018 signals a year of change for me. I know I need to seek new opportunities and new ventures — I know if I stay put, my dreams will continue to die a slow death in my being. And I can’t let that happen. At least, I can’t go down without a fight. But it’s terrifying in so many ways. Because as much change as I’ve experienced in my lifetime — and I’ve experienced a lot compared to most my age — I’m still not okay with it. I know so painfully well what these kinds of changes require of me because I’ve done this all before. Moving, starting over — it can be financially crippling. I question every day how I am going to survive. How I am going to find a job without a specifically valuable career to list on my resume. How I am going to afford to keep renting on my own when the cost of living alone has pushed me beyond my means. I wonder how I will make it again without friends. Without connections. I’ve done this exact move more than a few times in my life, and it never seems to get easier, only harder. Can I really put myself through all that again? And for what? For this small shred of hope that perhaps there is still purpose for my life beyond simply making a living, paying the bills, and at times just surviving?
I am in my own season of winter. And the landscape of my dreams seems desolate and barren. And honestly, it breaks my heart a little. Because I am this huge dreamer — perhaps to a fault. But I can’t help myself. I can’t help but still believe sometimes that if I just put my entire heart into something, whether it’s a project or a relationship or an ideal, that only good can come of that. If I could just be bold and vulnerable and open — if I could just believe something to be true — then that would be enough to move hearts and mountains. Enough to move the entire universe even. But that isn’t always how the story plays out. And this reality has crushed my spirit many times beneath a seemingly unbearable weight. A part of me remembers that feeling so well — and it makes me want to give up before I begin. To stop believing. To stop dreaming. To stop being the idealist or the romantic, because I can’t prove to anyone yet from my own experiences that there’s actually value to that. The trajectory of my life has not gone the way I thought it would, despite my best efforts, so why would I continue on with this mentality — with this hope?
I guess the answer to that question is: I’m not sure I know another way. Because idealism and hope and the ability to believe in possibilities against all odds is so intricately interwoven in the mapping of my brain that to give those up would be to cease to exist as me. And while my personal failures or life disappointments may bury me in sadness, while the harshness of my winter at times may leave me numb and frozen, I feel something in my being stirring — saying, “You are more than this. You have more to give. You are brave. And fierce. And resilient. Believe in who you are.”
A beautiful friend reminded me this week that “as long as we have breath, we have purpose and dreams to be fulfilled.” And that’s the thing about winter — the elements are unforgiving at times, but I am still here. Breathing. Being. Alive. And I know that if things were always warm and pleasant and easy, I would never know what it’s like to be challenged. To die and be reborn. To face my utter weaknesses and yet be surprised by my secret strengths. I would never know what it’s like to live and walk with pain and to rise again every single day in the face of that.
Pain manifests itself differently for all of us. For some, it’s illness and disease — crippling physical pain and endless hospital visits resulting in countless rounds of medicine and lifestyle changes to try to cope. For others like me, it’s depression or anxiety — or loss of relationships, of people we let ourselves care about. It’s ghosts from our past, or questions left unanswered. It’s the struggle of dreams unrealized. And a constant seeking of identity after a lifetime of wandering — of wondering where we belong and why we have gifts and talents if we’re not fully able to use them in a way that could change our world for the better.
I think pain is what holds me back — it’s what holds all of us back. And it makes sense. We are, after all, only human. Mere mortals in a universe that is always asking more of us — pushing us to our limits, seeing how much we can take. And what is fear but an avoidance of pain? The fear of more loss — of not being able to find ourselves again after a loss — it’s a powerful thing. It’s a powerful thief of dreams. I don’t know if I can continue to fight this thief, but I know I have to try.
So I embrace you, winter. I embrace you — understanding that the coming months and years most likely will not be easy. That you, my dear familiar winter, may not give way to spring. That much will be required of me. That I may fail. And find myself completely alone. That I may question my very existence. Just as I have many times before. But I will try to hold on to the little things.
How the crispness of your air reminds me that blood flows through my veins.
How you welcome the sun’s warmth, just as summer does.
And how you show me over and over again that life not only persists, but thrives, under your brilliantly bright cloak of white.