I truly didn’t think I would see another spring, but this past week we did indeed officially reach the Spring Equinox! Of course, where I live it’s hardly spring in any real sense. Mounds of snow cover the gardens, and the other day the wind was so cold I had to cover my freezing face with my scarf while walking into it. The sun is stronger and the days are longer, but otherwise winter has hardly loosened its grip. Soon it will be April, and the melting will quicken. I know one day the spring flowers will be pushing up again, but it’s still hard to believe at this point.
I like to celebrate the Equinox as a moment of balance for our planet. Dark and light reach an equilibrium, reminding us that life and death have equal and inter-dependent roles in our world. All life springs from death. The light pushes back the darkness. Hope eases us from despair. Now that we are in spring, the light, the life, the hope and happiness, are in their waxing phase, increasing until we reach the Summer Solstice. The Equinox reminds us that the extremes of the Solstice dichotomies are not the one truth; our polar opposites have their moments of equality. And none of these moments are stable; we are always passing through them, shifting almost imperceptibly towards the next moment of change. For change is the one truth that we can count on. Nothing will stay the same. What we cherish today will be lost tomorrow. What lives will die. And new life will come from that death.
These seasonal cycles are quite dramatic in the northern latitude where I live: the winter is a long and often tiresome combination of bitter cold or slushy mess, the spring is a fast and profuse bursting of new life, the summer steamy and intense, the fall a mellow glory of fiery colour like a phoenix. I have always loved the turning of these seasons and the yearly lessons of each quarter turn. From spring equinox to summer solstice and from fall equinox to winter solstice, I am reminded of this balance of renewal, the cycle of birth and death. It has been a comfort to me always to remember that though the light will fade, it will also return. There is no need to despair; we have only to honour the moment we are in and all it has to offer, knowing it will soon change.
Here all life in the garden dies or goes dormant in the fall, and we have six months to wait for the green of life to return to the trees and the earth. This waiting demands some faith. Perhaps I should credit my lack of patience for motivating me to find something worthwhile in the moment—I certainly can’t wait that many months for beauty and joy! So I learned to love the stark beauty of winter, its quiet stillness and subtlest colours. When I wrote a book of poetry structured around the seasons, winter proved to be the richest season for me. Here is one of the poems:
Yet for us as animal life forms, the renewal of life is not for ourselves as individuals (I don’t believe that when I die I will be physically reborn). For most of us, the renewal of life comes from our children, whether our own or those of our fellow humans. The cycle of life for humans is far longer than the year’s circle of seasons, but its lessons are the same: we need not despair; everything will change, whether we want it to or not; we have only to live this moment in all its mystery.
This was something I was coming to more fully realise as I turned fifty just before I fell ill. Approaching menopause is an unapologetic reminder to women that youth and beauty, vitality and desirability do not last; that our bodies, no matter how hard we try to keep them young, will move into the winter of life—unless we die first. My own aging was undeniable. My children had grown up and moved out. I saw most of my friends struggling with the challenge of aging and dying parents, and knew my own parents, though still healthy and active, would eventually follow. Their parents were long dead already. We humans, like all life forms, have our cycles too.
My first fifty years had been mostly about growth and gain: reaching adulthood and having children, making a home, developing a career, building relationships, growing a garden, etc. I saw that, as I passed beyond the half-century marker, my life would increasingly be about loss. Not just physical loss, but also social loss in my life as a mother, as a daughter, as a worker, as a lover. Material loss too: the family home where I’d raised my children was now too big for just me and would need to be sold. So many things I cherished would have to be given up. Loved ones would die. I faced the fact that, eventually, everything would be lost and I too would die. I wasn’t happy about it, but I would have to accept it. My illness has accelerated this process of loss, but it hasn’t changed the essential truth: all this, all I hold dear, just as much as all that causes suffering, is temporary.
That is how it is, and how it must be.