Winter’s prepared us to be more beautiful come spring

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, March 17, 2010

Pussy willows have returned to the Bow Valley once again, a sure sign spring is overtaking winter in spite of the occasional flaky weather still to come.
Photo by Warren Harbeck

“Warren, I just picked my first bunch of pussy willows for the year,” she said excitedly.

It was our coffee companion Mitzi Watts phoning from Ghost Lake Village Monday. The gophers were running around, there were two geese along the lake, and her husband, Bob, had already seen a robin. Oh, and the ice on Ghost Lake had melted eastward as far as the old church, she said, so folks better get the last of their ice-fishing shacks off the lake pretty quick.

Yes, spring was definitely arriving in the Bow Valley.

For me and for many others this signalled the end to what seemed like an especially hard, unrelenting winter. Sure, there would be more snowy days, and we wouldn’t want to change our winter tires quite yet, but the worst was over, and we had survived the ordeal for another year so that we could once more hold a branch of pussy willows in our hands and touch and feel spring.

There’s a lesson in this, I think – a lesson about hope and endurance.

A few weeks ago we reflected on the endurance of Nelson Mandela, a political prisoner for 27 years before becoming president of South Africa. He refused to surrender to the bitterness of his life’s “winter,” but instead contemplated what a more just “springtime” world could feel like once he was free. And even in the dark, cold days of his personal winter, he radiated light and warmth to his jailers.

But it’s not just the famous who are agents of such springtime hope in the midst of their personal winters.

Over the past weeks since the devastating earthquake in Haiti, we have all been amazed at the resilience of so many Haitians who had nothing before the quake and even less afterward. Yet in the words of Cochrane’s on-site volunteer Tamara Palinka (March 10 Eagle, p.5): “The best of Haiti was showcased when the poor stood together, united as one. They are amazing examples of strength and courage who overcame slavery, oppression, an abundance of corruption and natural disasters.”

The poor and marginalized often have a better grasp than others of carrying springtime’s sunny rays in their hearts while enduring life’s darkness. Some years ago I shared the story of retired Lutheran pastor Faith Brace. Before moving to Cochrane, she was part of a ministry among street people in Edmonton. In my Lenten column of March 13, 2002 she shared how many of her street-people parishioners had “allowed their pain to be transformed, to become a source of holy energy.

“In each of them I have witnessed, and been the beneficiary of, an unbearable sweetness of being,” she said. “I have not seen it anywhere else. The combination of suffering, isolation and poverty makes it so. In such circumstances, Christian faith flourishes. Is that faith, therefore, a faith primarily for the poor and suffering? I rather think it is. And we who are comfortable can only observe and wonder.”

Then, of course, there’s the witness of springtime crocuses, those enduring harbingers of better days to come.

Stoney Nakoda elder Tina Fox, of Morley, often speaks of the wisdom of one hillside crocus that was more beautiful than all the others. Upon closer examination, the crocus was found to be growing out of the middle of a cow pie. The lesson? When life dumps on you, it’s just making you all the more beautiful!

Well, folks, winter’s dump is about over. But just think how much more beautiful it has made us as we emerge into spring.

© 2010 Warren Harbeck

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