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Dear friends, 

I lived in Australia for four years in my twenties and have visited many times since then. It’s a country I love. But, try as I did, I was never able to adapt to December being the summer. The first year, it was a novelty, but as the years went by, I noticed a disconnect: I was so used to December and January being cold months. 

It’s not that I always loved a cold January: for me it can be a month of struggle. But somehow, a swelteringly hot January just made me feel unsure, rather than comforted. The seasonal cycle — summer/winter/autumn/spring — was somehow connected with another way of feeling seasoned: I’d associated experiences with the time, and my expectations of the weather. 

Our On Being episode this week is a re-airing of Krista’s conversation with the British author Katherine May whose book Wintering has been a comfort to so many. “Wintering,” as Katherine describes it, is an experience, not a season, already letting us know that her usage of this term is less about snow, and more about what’s happening in your inner world. “Some winters happen in the sun,” she writes, and “wintering is a metaphor for those phases in our life when we feel frozen out or unable to make the next step, and that that can come at any time, in any season, in any weather; that it has nothing to do with the physical cold.”

For her, “wintering” is an experience of finding yourself out-of-sync, perhaps feeling abandoned, like you’ve fallen through the cracks. Part of the intuition of writing about such experiences, for Katherine May, is community-making: once you speak about such times in your life, you’ll find others, too, have similar seasons. 

Katherine speaks about how a diagnosis of autism at the age of 38 informs so much of her writing. Autism isn’t some rare human experience, she says, and then notes how many people fall through the cracks in recognizing autism: middle class white boys are often the ones who are written about. “If you’re poor, you’re more likely to get a diagnosis of being naughty… if you’re Black, you have very little chance of getting an autism diagnosis at all. And if you’re a girl ... there’s actually quite a lot of active prejudice against the idea that girls can be autistic at all.” The experience of living through this, and eventually getting a diagnosis in her late thirties, led to her “expertise in wintering.”

If, in the annual season of winter, plants and animals learn to adapt — performing extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through — then perhaps we, who go through internal seasons in our lives might also find a way to recognize such seasons and not fight them, knowing that “life is fundamentally cyclical.” Katherine May speaks of sadness as a necessity, both personally and as a parent, and offers wisdom about how important it is to learn how to be with ourselves — and others — in seasons of sadness. This isn’t done alone: “we need friends … who tolerate our gloom, and who allow us to be weak for a while when we’re finding our feet again.” 

Our Poetry Unbound episodes this week portray two experiences of winter: one personal, one seasonal. On Monday’s episode, we heard Yehoshua November’s “2AM, and the Rabbinical Students Stand in Their Bathrobes,” a poem whose title sets the scene for a middle-of-the-night event where firefighters seek the cause of an alarm. It’s not a fire, though; rather a student who is distressed, and who set the alarm as a manifestation of their own worry. The poem’s intuition is to go deeper than just the story, considering the question of God’s presence “amongst those plagued by sadness.” Friday’s poem is Alberto Ríos’ “December Morning in the Desert,” a poem that delights in the shock of cold as the poet observes the sky, the stars, rejoices and recoils at the enormity of the universes’ sound, then locates that within the tiny hearts of bees, and wasps, and moths, and dragonflies. 

Friends, whatever season you are in — in the world, and in your world — we wish you the wisdom of knowing the season, of knowing what’s growing, of company, and kindness. 

 

Beir bua, 

Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound

 


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This Week at The On Being Project


Our Latest Episode


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On Being with Krista Tippett
Katherine May
How ‘Wintering’ Replenishes

The English writer on winter as a season in nature and in every life — a way to name the vast, communal, extended experience of our pandemic time.

Listen on:
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Poetry Unbound
Monday
Yehoshua November
2AM, and the Rabbinical Students Stand in their Bathrobes

A fire alarm in the middle of the night causes students of a Yeshiva to re-evaluate their imagination of where God dwells.

Friday
Alberto Ríos
December Morning in the Desert

Stargazing on a December morning, a poet is torn between the endless universe and the electric beat of hearts: his own, and that of other beasts.

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Spotify
Our Website


Placemaking & the Visual Voice of On Being


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As a media and public life initiative, we recognize the power of our visual voice to reshape narrative as part of our work toward social healing. Our art department has been working to articulate and strengthen our practices around equity and inclusion and is excited to share our Placemaking commitment with our community.

Special thanks to Team Dynamics, and our creative collaborators in this project: Carissa Potter, Hoi Chan, Jocelyn Tsaih, Joules Garcia, and Lucy Sherston.


Recommended


Watch | “An Excerpt from ‘Wintering’ by Katherine May

When we first released Krista's conversation with Katherine May, I don't think any of us quite believed we'd find ourselves, a year later, still utterly exhausted and bracing for another COVID season. But here we are. I listened to the show this time around as snow fell outside my Minnesota window for the first time this year — quiet, fairytale-like. Katherine's words were consoling: we are able to carry on through our winters, to welcome them, even to find transformation there. My colleagues Erin Colasacco and Zack Rose created a lovely, short film from one of our favorite parts of Katherine's book. May you too find comfort there.
— Julie Siple, Senior Producer, On Being Studios

Read | “This Is the Story of a Man Who Jumped Into Lake Michigan Every Day for Nearly a Year” (New York Times)

My son and I appreciate the occasional cold plunge into Lake Michigan, but we’ve got nothing on Chicago’s Dan O’Conor. He made his first lake jump in June 2020 — to soothe his pandemic anxiety. He hasn’t stopped since, even in the winter. It has been “a sort of light” to himself and others, during some dark times. Join him this winter — or if you can’t, check out his daily jump on Twitter and Instagram.
— Ben Katt, Associate Director of Religious Life & Social Healing


Connect With Our Social Healing Team


Are you a Muslim or Buddhist clergyperson or community leader? If so, our Social Healing team would love to hear from you. Please connect with us.

— Ben Katt, Associate Director of Religious Life & Social Healing


Season of Giving


For some, this time of year is an occasion for gifting and financial giving. If that’s you, we invite you to consider On Being. You can support our work as a 501(c)3 nonprofit through a tax-deductible donation, including via our giving page. Are you looking for a distinct gift idea? Consider giving the gift of a one-year membership to the On Being Wisdom app. Both of these options help make On Being’s work possible. We are grateful for the ongoing generosity and care from our community as we accompany one another.

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