Winter in Missouri is like Kansas in The Wizard of Oz: A world that is awash in a hundred shades of gray. Sometimes there is rain and oh, so very rarely, snow, but for the most part, we spend three-quarters of the winter under the pall of cloud-cover that does nothing more than make the short days shorter and the somber landscape downright dreary. We go for days, or even weeks, without a glimpse of the gentle sun, but just when I think my recollections of color and light were simply a dream, the sun returns in all Her glory and I am transported to a land of technicolor joy.
The moment the sun arrives, things change for the better: The gray-brown hillsides turn to gold under Her shining hand, the flat, grey ice on the pond comes alive with sparkling diamonds, and the everywhere creatures pause to bask in the warmth. The horses doze on the sunny side of their pasture and the barn cats lie stretched out in the doorway enjoying a reprieve from bracing against the cold. The milk cows lie in the soft, dry grass, chewing their cud as contentedly as they would in May and the chickens come out to dust-bathe for the first time in weeks. The world is at peace with the return of the sun.
Although the psychological benefits of sunlight are well documented, I wonder if the exaltation I feel is something more. After all, in the middle of last summer’s drought, it was the coming of the rain made me want to sing. So, perhaps the lift in spirit I feel isn’t some magical property unique to the sun, but rather the fact that She has been so long away that makes days like today such a delight.
Here in the United States, we want for very little. We live in climate-controlled houses, have continual access to food and drink, drive cars with GPS tracking, and carry the world-wide-web in our pockets. For the most part, we are buffered from the mercurial ways of The Wild and I openly admit, I have no problem with that. I love my air conditioner, my running water, and my high-speed internet, but deep down I know we pay a price for having comfort-on-demand. In creating a world we can control with a the click of a remote, we miss out on one the fundamental joys of living: The joy of deprivation.
Some years ago, I rented a rustic, one-room cabin in Northern Minnesota. The cabin was well-built and attractive, but it had no running water or electricity. There were propane lamps to dispel the dark and a privy a few steps beyond the porch, but I had no way to take a bath. I could freshen up with a basin of lake water I heated on the stove, but after a week of hiking and canoeing in the Boundary Waters, I needed something more. One afternoon, I drove in to the town of Ely and stopped at an outfitter offering hot showers for $3.00. I knew it would feel good to get clean, but the luxury of soaking in a spray of steaming-hot water was in a word, miraculous. I had no idea such a simple act could be an epiphany, but it was that and more.
Since that trip, I’ve kept a mental list of similar experiences, and they have taught me that to the best times are those that come after deprivation. If we never want for anything, we will stay forever in a world of lifeless winter gray. To move beyond the shadowlands and realize our dreams, we must stand bravely before the storms of life, knowing our sacrifice is the beginning of our joy – for you can’t fly over the rainbow without first passing through the rain.