The Time of Hunkering Down

In the Northern Hemisphere, January is often cited as the most challenging month of the year. Gone are the festivities of December; now it’s just cold, dark winter, with the sole charge of the month seeming to be to get through it.

It’s easy to find January a bit demoralizing. I find quite a bit of social letdown in January after all December’s fun. People are tired of parties and rich food and drinking and presents, and go back to their work and their regular lives with a kind of grim determination, buoyed by the holidays but also feeling them recede rapidly in the face of hostile weather, short days and the return of workaday routine.

I comfort myself, though, that this is winter. This is what the whole of last month managed to avoid.

Winter is a serious business, and was so for our ancestors, too. When conditions arise that force you to slaughter most of your livestock because you can’t afford to feed them through the coming months, and you anxiously watch your stores of food shrinking until you can grow some more, and diseases come that take some of your elderly and children, and bitter cold threatens your survival every day, it’s natural to feel besieged. It’s appropriate to armor yourself against the natural world and to begin to view it as an enemy. So January becomes the Month of Just Get On With It. No pretty foliage, no festive holidays…nothing to mitigate the sheer reality of Winter at its coldest and harshest.

To me, though, that is a perverse sort of charm. How many times in life must we simply Get On With It, though conditions are challenging and we don’t really want to? We like to imagine a life in which nothing is difficult and enjoyment is continual, but that isn’t the reality of being human on Planet Earth, is it? We can teach ourselves to be accepting, to breathe through what is unpleasant, to carry on despite. January is a good reminder that we must do so…that we must do both the external and internal work to go forward in our lives. It’s not a happy, pleasant assignment, but it is the human condition.

Wrap up warm and head out into that icy wind to your destinations, friends. May you persevere, and reach them.

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