It’s a glum time—COVID-19 numbers spiking and the holidays approaching—we could all use a bit of inspiration to get us through the worry and isolation. If you’re feeling like I am, reach for “Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times,” by British author Katherine May. In May’s beautifully written memoir I found solace and hope that this winter of our souls will eventually pass.
Though May believes we cycle through difficult times, “winters,” throughout our lives, the personal winter she introduces her book with starts as she turns 40. While celebrating this milestone, at an outing on the beach in September, her husband faces an unexpected, acute illness that lands him in the hospital. The scare occurs just after she’s quit her job teaching at a university; simultaneously, concern about her young son erupts, his anxiety about school paramount.
Using winter as a metaphor, May takes us on a journey that begins in September and culminates in late March as she observes the natural world and its inhabitants, drawing insight on how creatures and insects manage to get along.
May also shares how she winters, turning to books she meant to read in the summer, as well as cooking, knitting and sleeping more, like animals that hibernate. Each month brings deep thought and blessings she is quiet enough to notice since her job has ended.
The chapters on the months are book-ended by a prologue and epilogue that are wise and enlightening, with standalone passages I copied on my phone so I could turn to them and pass them along to friends who are wintering along with me.
“Sometimes the best response to our howls of anguish is the honest one. We need friends who wince along with our pain, who tolerate our gloom, and who allow us to be weak for a while when we’re finding our feet again…we need to give ourselves a break when we need it and to be kind. To find our grit, in our own time.”
Though we are only in November, I’ve got a copy of “Wintering” to turn to in the dark months until light returns and the ensuing spring; May reminds us that with each challenge “…we will ratchet up a notch. We learn from the last time around, and we do a few things better this time; we develop tricks of the mind to see us through. That is how progress is made.”