Winter and Spring are used throughout literature and poetry and lyrics to mean more than climate, but relating to the human experience. I knew this, but I never really understood what Spring was all about until I moved to China.
I spent almost my whole childhood in Australia, where there really isn’t much of a winter. After moving from Sydney to Canberra, I thought I had experienced winter. I had remembered seeing frost twice in my Sydney life, and never a true fog, whereas these were near daily Winter occurences in Canberra. Spring was full of bright coloured flowers and warmer weather.
I thought I knew what Winter and Spring were. I was wrong.
Winter in Canberra is sunlit and colourful. The sky is often clear and blue, full of warm winter sunlight. Most of the trees are evergreens; even though native Australian trees are rarely a GREEN green, they are still covered in leaves year round. There is green grass. It might be cold overnight but the covering of frost and fog usually burn away in the morning sun.
Winter in Beijing is very, very different. It is grey, brown, bare, stark. For months. And months. There is no colour, no life, anywhere. Evergreen hedges are even covered with canvas to protect them. The evergreen fir trees are not green. They are brown and grey, the old growth dull and lacklustre, then covered in layers of smog-dust. There is no grass – just bare dirt. There is no green. There is rarely even a clear blue sky. The days are short and dark. It is unrelenting.
There is a link between sunlight and physical health. There is also a link between sunlight and emotional health. I think it’s no coincidence that my first bout of depression happened during my one full winter living in the US. Or that my first big bout in China happened during my first full winter here. I now try to deliberately schedule a trip out of Beijing during the winter – and it makes a difference. The unrelieved months of NOTHINGNESS wear on me.
But that’s my point. That’s what winter is. Unrelieved months of nothingness. Everything alive is hidden. The trees aren’t dead, and I know that, but they LOOK dead. I know the weather will warm up again, that I’ll see the sun again, but it doesn’t FEEL like it. That’s how depression feels, too. Grey nothingness. Like nothing will ever change. Like there is no life left.
I think some people have only experienced a Canberra Winter of the soul – and when they give words of comfort to someone in the middle of a Beijing Winter of the soul, those words can ring a little hollow. Sometimes life just sucks. And it’s okay to acknowledge that. Because during that kind of Winter, life seems unbearable. Living through Winter in Beijing actually feels like that sometimes. Like I’ll go crazy if the sky is grey one more day.
But then, one day, I see a leafless tree with a few blossoms opening. I realise the willow trees aren’t grey-brown, but look slightly yellow; a week later, they look pale yellow-green. I can’t see the individual leaves yet, but that colour changes reminds me they are coming. All sorts of flowers, in all sorts of colour, start blooming. The dead-looking pine trees sprout new growth – a bright green that looks almost like mould against the dull grey-green of their winter coats. Grass sprouts again.
Actually, when I saw gardeners watering near-bare ground during my first Spring, I couldn’t undertstand why. How could water resurrect dead grass? I didn’t realise the roots were there, ready to reawaken with Spring. What a surprise to see the same patch of ground covered in a lush carpet of green only a few weeks later! And I got it – this is Spring.
Spring is more than new life – it is hope. Knowing that new life is waiting under the surface of dead trees and bare ground is the hope that sustains us through Winter. Life is the same. It is the knowledge that things will not always be this way that keeps us going through the hard times.
Without the hope of Spring, Winter is unbearable. I think that’s why the Christian festival of Easter is so interwoven with motifs of Spring. The resurrection on Easter morning is the promise of a spiritual Spring. Jesus is alive, and offers me life – this is the hope that things will not always be this way.
Sometimes life just sucks. That’s reality. But it won’t always be that way – things do change! Even in deepest mid-winter, there is the hope of a Spring yet to come. And on a blue sky Spring day, looking at fresh new green growth on trees, and colourful flowers everywhere, I remember that. My heart lifts. I feel renewed. I know it’s going to be okay – even if it isn’t yet.
The soundtrack for this post is three songs that came on my ipod when it was set to shuffle on one of the first beautiful Spring days of this year: Awakening (by Switchfoot), Breathe (by Anberlin), and Must Get Out (by Maroon 5).
“I can finally breathe, suddenly alive / I can finally move, the world feels revived”