By L&T Columnist Rachel Coleman
Complaints about the weather have multiplied faster than the stubborn dandelions that dot Liberal’s lawns these days. Is is spring yet? Is it winter again? How long must we endure this back-and-forth weather?
I’m sympathetic to the complainers. The rows of beets, kale, radishes and lettuce that I’d planted with such optimism about one month ago are still just bare mounds of garden dirt. Sure, the seeds germinated and tiny plants emerged — only to be frozen into invisibility a couple weeks later. Every time I find the motivation to replant, I hear another forecast of doom in the form of below-freezing temperatures.
And don’t even get me started on the strange physical symptoms I experience as the weather swings to and fro. My damaged immune system is no longer as happy-go-lucky as it once was in the days when I found weather oddities charming. I just want to be able to go for my daily walk, thereby stabilizing my moods and my ability to balance on both feet. A little mood-altering sunshine wouldn’t hurt, either.
This crazy weather does offer a few positives, though. For one thing, it keeps me humble. Like most First World inhabitants of the 21st century, I tend to forget I am not master of the universe. It’s understandable that I might experience periodic confusion about this little detail; with the click of keyboard characters, I can access information from library databases that are closed for the night, attend classes recorded on the Eastern seaboard, chat with my brother in India. Modern technology offers me more than information, though. I also enjoy a level of immediate gratification unheard of in previous generations. If my bank balance sags, I can transfer money; if I hanker for a new set of dishes, I can shop, select and order what I desire without ever leaving home.
Take that, you nasty weather!
But there we witness the delusion of modern life. Sure, the Internet allows us to overcome some barriers thrown up by, say, the weather. Others remain. Windy conditions, ice on the lines, power outages can throw the best-laid plans into chaos, just as the weather showed me where early-planting smugness gets a human resident of this old planet. Best to remember we don’t have everything nailed down.
Another hard-to-swallow result of the weather see-saw: down time. Who doesn’t need some of that? Yet our culture continually counsels us otherwise: “More is better,” and “You can do it all,” and “Don’t miss out on this amazing opportunity.” Our bodies and our families know the truth. People don’t do our best when we cheat sleep, fuel up with sugar and caffeine and exist in a state of stifled panic. When was the last time you had nothing to do? When was the last time you were alone in a quiet house and felt the stillness smooth your overbusy mind?
Erratic weather has prevented me from taking a stab at Seed-Planting 2.0, and that’s probably a good thing. I didn’t realize how worn out I had gotten. I’ve managed to take a nap or two these last few weeks, and it’s startling to recall that, not so long ago, I scheduled a daily lie-down of 45 minutes or more. That probably accounts for a good part of my miraculous recovery from symptoms of multiple sclerosis, and it might not be a bad idea to move in that direction once more. I smile more when I’m not borderline exhausted.
Perhaps the most valuable side effect of the nutso “spring-not spring-just kidding!” weather we’ve experienced has been a fresh flowering of gratitude. We all know the dutiful drill designed to produce a thankful heart: we have so much to be thankful for, other people have it so much worse, count your blessings, ad nauseum. I’m a fan of deliberate, intentional gratitude, but the obligatory variety can turn stale quickly. On the other hand, gratitude that springs from the surprise of a fresh perspective nourishes my soul.
What I’ve experienced in recent weeks is a deeper awareness of my own helplessness in the face of reality. Maybe I had plans for my day, my yard, my time. Weather got the final say. While it’s possible, and pretty normal, to find this deeply upsetting, it’s also possible to rest in what is. American culture admires the scrappy struggler, the overcomer. Nobody gets praise for acknowledging the fact that sometimes circumstances overcome us in small ways. People just don’t brag about it, and they sure don’t offer awards to those who veer off course.
Yet by choosing acceptance rather than fear, frustration and anger, we find our escape. Openness to the unexpected often opens a gate in our hearts and souls that renders the original “problem” into an unimportant side note.
“Yes, you got me,” I thought to myself as I surveyed the nearly-invisible, freeze-dried radish tops and beet greens. “I wanted spring greens for salad. You had something else planned.” I wasn’t clear if I was talking to God or to nature or both at the same time. Maybe even myself.
As I pondered the unexpected change of plans, the thought occurred to me that I had planted in a hurry. The salad greens would flourish in the section further south, where afternoon shade might offset the worst of the summer’s heat. Tomatoes and peppers would love the sunny spot vacated by the beets. What I had ended up with, despite its wilted appearance, was far better than my original plan. In the long run, I would be grateful for the rearrangement.
Isn’t that just how life works? Why don’t I remember this more often? Maybe that’s why the weather does what it does. The weather, you recall, has been around a lot longer than the rest of us.