These November days remind me of winter in England. Those perfect winter days when the frost settles on the bushes, but it’s not too cold. Or the cold nips your nose but doesn’t settle in your bones. The pale sunlight doesn’t add warmth, but it dances on the buildings and trees and urges the birds to sing its praises.
A crisp winter day in England is a gift.
And it’s a gift in late November in Canada. This weather also reminds me of a day when I arrived at St. Joseph’s hospital in Guelph in the back of an ambulance on a pale winter day 22 years ago today. I could see the feeble sunlight through the small window in the back door, and when the attendants opened it, I felt the cool air caress my cheek. I thought about how this reminded me of a winter day in England.
From the gurney, I breathed it in and let it fill my lungs. I saw the cottonball clouds in the sky as it jostled and rolled determinedly towards the door. I heard the sparrows singing their welcome song.
The sounds nature makes, and being able to hear them, is a gift.
Twenty-two years ago today, I survived a life-changing car accident. I’ve written about this experience in a book about a decade ago. I had a broken tibia and fibula in my left leg, and it took me the first week after the accident – spent in Guelph General Hospital – to convince the nurses and doctors that I had blurry vision. A piece of the grill of the truck that hit me pierced my retina, and after that week of complaining of blurred vision, I finally had surgery to repair the rip. I must wear glasses now, but my vision is still 20/20.
My eyesight is a gift.
I used to get depressed at this time of year. Let’s face it – November is the year’s most unpleasant month. It can’t decide whether to rain or snow, and the cold cuts into you. The winds are unforgiving and the sun rarely shines. I guess it’s never been my favourite month. I’d take February over it any day.
The car accident, which took place Nov. 27, 1997, haunted me for years at this time of year. I’d feel blue for days or weeks at a time. I’d lose my appetite or my interest in going out. I didn’t make the connection for a long time, but I realized something eventually: every year, I grieved what I’d lost in the accident, even though I’d gained most of it back again, physically. The emotional and spiritual scarring took much longer to heal.
To survive – to overcome – is a gift.
Now, in my middle age, I realize this more and more, for different reasons. I’ve done a lot of turning over the past 10 years. As I piece together my career, my family life, myself, out of the shreds of crisis and fear and over-contentment, I know that life is not a given. It’s not always easy to see the good things we have. I sometimes still grieve what I remember as seemingly better days. The key, though, is not to get stuck in that cycle. It has taken a lot of work for me, but I’m slowly learning how to turn those destructive thoughts around, to see things as they truly are (and accept them that way). To turn enough that I see clearly.
This, too, is a gift.
It reminds me of this Shaker song, "Simple Gifts," which my kids listened to on a cassette tape; even though the turning in this song is actually a dancing instruction, it suits the journey of life, too:
’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free ’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ’Twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed, To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.