A common saying has March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb. After weeks of snowy weather, it is hard to wait any more for spring. The time of year, like the weather, performs a balancing act between blustery storms, accumulating snow, flooding, and days when the temperature cannot seem to make up its mind: are we finally stepping beyond the grip of winter or must we still bundle up? For those who are in the “grin and bear it” phase, these last bursts of winter test one’s patience. The end of road is waiting in plain sight.
Spring and its heralds come through weeks before we see the signs. What awaits us during this time are reminders of transition. Meterological spring is March 1, covering the months of March, April, and May in the northern hemisphere. Our embrace of all things spring comes later than the beginning of the month. When a few feet of snow are piled into mounds at the end of driveways or by alleyways with only a narrow path for vehicles, it is hard to visualize spring flowers blooming and the increase of sunlight.
Still, waiting in plain sight are joys and revelations. Walking between the large snow mounds and viewing a clear blue sky brings a reminder of the beauty of nature around us. How many ways can one make a village of snow people, complete with castles and snow forts? How many types of soup can be celebrated with friends at gatherings? How many unexpected snow days can be spent reading a cherished book, or chatting with a neighbor? What awaits us are experiences that might not otherwise be available if we were engaged in our regular routines.
Waiting is an engaging past-time on many levels. In pausing or delaying an action until a later point, we punctuate our expectations of what should happen with a subtle agreement to take a different path, at least momentarily. Weather delays are one example: we grumble at the change in our schedules, but with an acceptance that there is nothing that can really be done about it.
There are other examples, outside of the reality of winter weather: there are still places with a waiting period before getting a marriage license, and anyone who has seen or lived through a renovation deals with the pain of waiting for the finished product. The gift that hides within a renovation is time to see things from a different point of view and time to make changes if necessary.
There is another type of waiting, also done in plain sight: grief.
When we grieve, we are waiting. Perhaps we wait for a sign or words that remind us of the loved one. Grief does not hide; on the contrary, it presents itself with full view in the guise of waiting. While many speak of grief during its active phase, just after the loss, there are many types of grief. The loss of a spouse, parent, child, sibling, relative, friend, or neighbor brings forth certain types of grief.
One type of grief is no less important than another; each one is a loss. Sometimes, we forget how the involuntary change of a career, the diagnosis of an illness, the successful completion of weight loss surgery, or the act of becoming homeless – to name just some examples – are all losses. All involve waiting. All require a period of mourning what was; there is no re-framing reality in any of these situations. Something that was present is no longer.
Waiting is a part of the grieving process: waiting for grief to start, waiting for it to end, or for it to seem like it will end. Grief can involve waiting for others to acknowledge the public pain that the mourner has for the loss. There is waiting for the self to acknowledge when the time comes to re-enter the ordinary flow of time. Grief inhabits the land of waiting.
We hold grief in our hearts in some form as we watch our children grow up, or as we bid farewell to friends who no longer form our social circle. We wait for new friends, fresh adventures, and exciting prospects bring us joy on our chosen paths. Each time we change jobs, or finish training to start a career, we have a waiting period. This pause can allow us to reflect upon what we are choosing to leave behind and what we welcome into our lives with enthusiasm.
Waiting is not for the weak: it requires a patience that we might not see or feel in ourselves at the time. It may be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other on a chosen path, yet we find that taking those initial steps fills us with hesitation and trepidation at what lies ahead. Waiting asks us to consider the eddies simultaneously of what might have been, what may be, and what currently is. Choices may be in plain sight in front of us, yet we might not see them unless we engage in the act of waiting.
“Dark night of soul” is a term commonly used to refer to a period of great turmoil and chaos in our personal lives. Despite its origins with Christian mysticism, the term is often used within the Pagan community as a descriptive term for a time of crisis and awakening on one’s spiritual or religious path. In my home tradition, the time period of second degree study is commonly one when the dark night of the soul experience occurs; however, it is not limited to only those entering the second degree. Sometimes what is called “burnout” for higher-level clergy and long-time practitioners in any tradition can be an extended dark night of the soul experience. The timing may vary, but the sense of the long wait, the drudging through mud, and the lack of a quick exit are common.
During my time in my home tradition, I have experienced the dark night of the soul a few times, most recently combined with actual grief. It has taken about 18 months to appreciate the joy of waiting and wading through times of grief. Both coming out of a time of being in the dark night of the soul and coming out of a time of grief and mourning appear as warmth at the end of a long winter. Spring is coming. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The reward for waiting becomes evident with each passing day.
Waiting in plain sight are the gifts that we might not appreciate if we did not have to hunt to find them. The arrival of Daylight Savings Time brings a welcome change for those who want to enjoy evening comforts with a bit more daylight. The tradeoff in loss of sleep heralds the impending start of spring as many understand it: a time of warmer temperatures, rains to nourish flowers yet to bloom, and a transition to a more active cycle. We have to seek what will help us to resume our normal sleep patterns.
As we continue our wait, we can see what looks like daylight just beyond the edge of our everyday problems and concerns. The biggest gift that waiting gives us is the chance to re-frame what we see and what we choose to do with our lives and with the time we have before us. It is easy to see solutions during warmer weather.
We only have some much time allotted to us, and we can’t always plan for a crisis – when the flood happens, when we lose a job, when a relative falls ill and it is our responsibility to care for them. Often, we are so busy dealing with the crisis that it is hard to see the small spaces where waiting allows us just a bit more room to see and to understand. As winter takes its last gasp of storms and we deal with their aftermath, we can see what is waiting in plain sight – the end of the road that is before us.