In The Bleak Midwinter

"In the bleak midwinter

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone.

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow.

In the bleak midwinter,

Long, long ago."

I'm not sure when I first heard this song, but its words were stuck in my brain this morning; as stuck as the front door that wouldn't budge, its handle squealing its protest of my opening it to the cold world outside.

As I walked along my morning path, the ground beneath my booted feet could only be described in the words of that poem, "Earth stood hard as iron." My steps and the light prancing of the furry puppy next to me pounded against the rough, unforgiving surface, not even making an impression into its brutal coldness.

The world was so hard.

The world IS so hard.

We have all been hurt, sometimes in devastating ways...ways that shattered our whole being against the hard earth, ways that made us think everything we believed in was not true, not real, a wicked lie that made fools of us. Sometimes, the pain came from those who had promised to love us best, and sometimes it was in little, petty ways that were more of our own wounded heart's interpretation of another's intent. But still, there was great hurt. All of the things...big or small...have punctured our tenderness with their frozen steel-tipped arrows.

Just this morning, while the epiphanies of my stroll were still simmering in my brain, my impossibly cold hands wrapped around a steaming beverage in the hopes that some part of me could be warm; in the midst of breakfasts being eaten and dishes piling in and out of sinks and laundry never leaving and school questions flying around the air, there was a brief email that came in and took my breath away with the sheer insensitivity of it. Eyes began to sting. Heart dropped and sickened.

And I felt my heart close as tightly as a fist.

Hard as iron. Hard as iron. Just like the ground.

I wanted to be angry in the justifiable RIGHTNESS of my rage. I wanted to lash out and tell the world what a jerk it was being today.

But I've been as hard as iron before. And it's terrible. It means I look all around me just waiting for people to screw up and hurt me. It means I view everything through the scratched, fogged-up lenses of Let's See How This Must Be About Me glasses. It means I push people away with my prickliness. It means I'm cynical and closed off and eventually alone with my blanket of self-pity which, by the way, is a very thin and moth-eaten and lonely cover.

Instead, in the bleak midwinter of my hurt, whether that hurt is something simple that I can choose to step over and be done with in an hour, or whether it is something brutal that will take work and tears and years, I can be, instead of a hard ground, a soft and yielding place.

Instead of holding the hurt tightly in my icicled hands, I can become humbled and understanding and YES, ABSOLUTELY allow myself to feel pain and to cry and to say words that I don't want my kids to hear or repeat, but then...then, I have to allow my hands to open and release. I have to remember the things that I can change, which usually...well, actually, never....include other people.

Instead of allowing the hurt to fashion me into something hard and unyielding that shatters people when they come up against me, I can become a gentle place for them to fall. Because they will fall. I will fall. Instead of breaking against each other, we can catch each other.

Choosing the softer way means I will get hurt. A lot. It means I have to look at myself and say, Yep, I'm sensitive. Way, way sensitive a lot of the time.  I know that it means I have the beautiful, breath-catching capacity to Love Big, but it also means I have the terrifying, soul shaking capacity to Break Hard.

If we have lived on this Iron Earth for any more than a few years, we have loved and we have been broken: wide open, brutally and unfairly. And we can let our hearts be terribly frozen. But the wide open warmthness of heart and the way of gentleness and of love and yes, oh yes, of wisdom in how to navigate this way of love is too gorgeous to miss. It requires our boots and gloves and scarves, not to protect us against the pain (oh no, there's no armor for that). Instead of shields for our souls and our hearts, the gear we drape ourselves in becomes simply  a way for us to keep walking longer, to keep loving harder,  to keep reaching that hand to another and finding more warmth as we join those hands. To keep walking on the iron-solid ground of this planet, our footsteps together treading stronger than we ever would alone.

And what was once Cold and Hard and Stone becomes Life and Soft and Green. The bleak midwinter always gives way to spring. It always has, a million times over, and always will again. It is unstoppable. May it be unstoppable in our hearts as well.


In the Bleak Midwinter, Christina Rossetti, 1872