God can bring good out of anything - even a long and dreary winter.
Chilly rain, snow, ice. Grey. Relentless cold. Or perhaps worse: a creeping sense of futility. Or is it just boredom? It’s hard to say. It’s February.
In the seventh century B.C., Hesiod expressed a confidence that might strike us as remarkable: Zeus has a design for each occasion. The context is Hesiod’s reflecting on the different tasks in a household that are fitting for the different times of year. He is convinced that a key task in the household is to discern what to do when — especially in light of the natural cycle of the year.
One thing is clear: the rhythm of the year is not a product of human ingenuity. Whatever the source of the astounding variety in the year, and its corresponding activities — and Hesiod is convinced that the source is divine — it is the task of humans to match our actions to that which is given. Or we can flee the natural order, pretending it’s not there at all. We can try to sequester ourselves, and live in a world of our own making, cushioned by a plethora of technologies that distract. We can try.
At times the natural world is far from subtle, insinuating itself into our life in more insistent ways. It’s hard to ignore a snow storm. But I’ve read that it is not uncommon that SUV drivers end up where they had least expected to be: in a snow drift on the side of the road. Gloating would not be appropriate. Indeed I wonder: maybe these days most of us are driving the proverbial SUV through life. Especially when it comes to February.
I think we treat February like it’s a dandelion in the lawn. Surely we’ve got a spray for this?
We certainly do have a spray for this. We can double down on TV, movies and internet surfing; we can spend more time shopping, and at the gym, and so on. But perhaps we should think about leaving those options on the shelf. Maybe February has its own place in the year and needs to be lived, not avoided. But we mortals find this very hard to comprehend.
Inclement weather tends to drive us indoors. Especially for those who have children in the home, this flight indoors can be a challenge. Yet perhaps this is the key to finding February’s true place: really taking advantage of being inside; together. If we resist the temptation to pass much of the time consuming mass-produced and technological entertainment, we might discover — or rediscover — tried and true ways of being-together with those we love, thus making the most of these late winter days and nights. We might also take more time reading classics, meditating, and writing letters or reflections.
One way of being together that is especially suited to February and March is planning for spring. Many people have a garden. More of us could start one, however small, this spring. Pouring over seed catalogues, sketching the design of the beds, deciding how to divide available space between our favorite vegetables and flowers… it can all make for a truly exciting time.
But this is only one example, albeit a prime one. Spring should be a time of renewed activity — especially, though not exclusively, those activities associated with the outdoors. Late winter is a time of preparation and planning. And the more worthy the activity planned, the more fulfilling the preparation.
Any way you slice it, February will hold special difficulties. I don’t think the answer is to pretend that it is the ultimate time of plenitude. One of the main features of the natural order of the year is the cycle of birth and death, growth and decay, activity and rest, preparation and fulfillment. Late winter is surely a time fitted to projecting our thoughts to more fulfilling times ahead. But it can also be a genuine and unique time of plenitude.
The call to a more positive engagement in late winter can feel likes it’s just beyond our strength. Yet avoiding the challenge that is February will only lead to frustration. It’s not so much that the gods will punish us for ignoring the seasonal rhythm. Rather the seasonal rhythm, springing from a loving and careful providence, is a teacher, an indicator of a human rhythm. The natural world is saying something to us, about us. The seeds in the cold, snow-covered earth are swelling with the juice that will soon be the vitality of spring. Perhaps the work of February is about a courageous and obedient patience that builds strength and forges bonds, as the source of coming new growth.
Dr. John Cuddeback, professor of philosophy at Christendom College, is a member of the Aleteia board of experts and author of Bacon from Acorns, a blog devoted to the oft-neglected "philosophy of household." He is also the author of True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness.