Embracing All the Seasons of Life

Last week we referred to the stories, The Wizard of Oz and The Secret Garden. The first story especially illustrates how there are storms in our life, but they may be followed by rainbows. To follow the rainbow, we must not rely on magical resources from outside, but discover and draw on our own inner gifts and resources. That is how we journey to our home on the other side of the rainbow.

The Secret Garden brings out the inseparability of the outer garden of the events of our life and the inner garden of our heart. Rather than attempting to close off our hearts to pain or sorrow, we need to allow then to be open and vulnerable, though certainly in the safe place of our own solitude or in the safe place of a caring other.

The Selfish Giant, a modern folktale by Oscar Wilde likewise brings out that if we build walls around ourselves, it will always be winter in our hearts and no birds will sing. If we break down our walls, we can allow new life to flow within and without, even in a playful way. This conviction is illustrated by the children. They come in through cracks in the walls and winter turns to spring, darkness to light.

This story reminds me as well of Leonard Cohen’s famous line from his song, Anthem: “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” In Hallelujah, he sings of a lonely and a broken hallelujah. These words would seem to acknowledge the sorrow and limits of life. Yet they are followed by a movement beyond to gratitude for the gift of life, a celebration of that life, and spirit of generosity. It is possible to trust our longing for home, which lies on the other side of the rainbow which follows the storm.

In the story of Snow White, the growing child is faced with a choice represented by the colour red and the two queens. The colour red stands for the powerful and even contradictory feelings. The two queens represent the red of love and the red of hatred. Snow White experiences both tendencies within herself, as we all do. As she grows–in the Grimm Brothers story rather than the film version–Snow White she faces a choice between the red of love and the red of hate.

In the story of The Two Wolves, the child tells his grandfather of similar feelings. He says that it is as if two wolves are fighting within himself, the wolf of love and the wolf of hate. He asks his grandfather which one wins. The grandfather responds that it is the one he feeds. The grandfather also acknowledges the presence of both strong feelings within himself and the struggle between them: “I too, at times, have felt great hate for those who have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It’s like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times.”

These stories recall the expression of Richard Rohr that suffering–and we might add the powerful negative tendencies and feelings–are either transformed or transmitted. It recalls also our distinction between inflicting our negative feelings on others and entrusting them to a caring other.

In the story, Snow White is tricked into tasting the red side of the apple. In effect, she tastes the red side of life, that is, the whole variety of powerful emotions. To do so is to undergo a kind of death, an ending of one stage of life. In the story, she is then encased in a glass coffin. Like the wall which surrounds the selfish giant, in her glass case, she becomes inaccessible. Only when the glass encasing her is cracked open does she emerge to a new life. The story suggests that it is only love which is able at once to acknowledge the cracks in life—all that is painful—yet hold them together in a caring heart. It is essential to taste life fully, yet not to poison, but to nourish self and others in the process.

Writer Katherine May, speaks along similar lines in her book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. She says that “wintering as a metaphor for those phases in our life when we feel frozen out or unable to make the next step, and that that can come at any time, in any season, in any weather.” She suggests that when we are in a dark place, we need to ask what it can teach us. She notes that we are uncomfortable with sadness. And our instinct is to try to move others out of that state immediately. But that can feel a lot like being told that our feelings aren’t acceptable and that our state of being isn’t acceptable. It is more helpful to make space for their sadness, to open up a space that their sadness is acknowledged and validated.

The Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone stresses as well the seasons of winter and spring in our hearts as well as in the weather. Winter is linked with a time of loss, desolation, and mourning and desolation. Spring is a time of new life, joy, and connection. Both seasons are a part of life. My godson, Aidan and I reworked the story of Pandora, whose name means “all the gifts.” It suggests that while sorrow and suffering are an inescapable part of life, life still remains a wondrous and sacred gift. And it is best contained within hope and love.

May all the storms in your life give rise to rainbows. May you acknowledge the presence of all feelings within yourself without ceasing to be grateful for your life. And may you find caring others to whom to entrust all your feelings.

Norman King
September 18, 2022