The Hard Work of Joy
(aka why Minnesota is still better than a beach)
I’ve long held the belief that if you live in Minnesota for a winter, you become a native. In particular, the month of March. This is when Mother Nature allows her children, Winter and Spring to have an all-out cage match. Spring must fight for its ground. In those 5 weeks we experience snow, sleet, rain, hail, thunder, ice, more gray days than sun, breath-stealing winds, barometric pressure rollercoasters, and a minuscule peek of sun and warmth as our days get longer with light. Sometimes all of these weather events happen within 24–48 hours, and we jokingly forgive our meteorologists and they cobble together a forecast that basically says “We don’t fucking know what’s going to happen.”
We don’t glide into Spring here, we trudge into it, with each day and step hard-fought. In March you begin to know things in your bones about nature and your place in it.
It can be a spirit-sucking time coming out of winter. The snow is melting, but it’s icy and dirty and littered with trash from people who view the world as trash, and share their view via the roadside and sidewalks. The cigarette butts, fast food wrappers, an occasional full diaper line the brown lifeless ditches. The sun maybe out, but you still put on the parka as it’s 16-degree Fahrenheit. And that parka, along with hats, mittens, and scarves smell of months of snow shoveling, gingerly stepping to the car across icy parking lots, sweating once the heater revs up, as you navigate towards home through the latest squall of sleet and black ice.
And in this physical environment, there are ads everywhere advertising swimsuits. Or beaches in warmer climes smugly beckon us to spend a lot of money to come sit in the sun and buy some drinks to forget your troubles. Here, they sniff, it’s always summer. Always.
It’s a gritty time to be in the Midwest in March. But it has its advantages.
Case in point, we are moving out of a pandemic. We are interacting more, and changing our patterns again to be more open. Less time at home, maybe a day or two in the office, wearing lipstick into Target instead of a mask, scheduling coffees with friends here and there.
But some of the emotional hangovers to the pandemic remain, and it’s not the glossy culture-war topics the TV pundits and politicians crow about. It’s buried in our news. These quiet articles paint a stark picture of our country and culture: we’re drinking more; swearing more; driving badly; slapping each other in Walmarts and award shows; more drug overdoses claiming lives, and the mental health of the next generation has taken a huge hit from this. And by seeing the glimmer of light of a fading pandemic, we are realizing just how deep the scars of the last 2 years have dug into our psyche.
This is where living in a place with seasons and transitions can give you an edge. Because you don’t glide out of pandemics, you trudge.
At this time of the year, of all my fellow Midwesterners are within a deep reflective chrysalis of their own making. In the winter months, we have gone into our houses, ourselves, weathering through the cold and darkness. And now, just before the birth of Spring, the hard work of change is reshaping us for who we will be next, scars and all, different and yet the same. Mother Nature becomes a guide, not an adversary.
It comes down to this: We are all responsible for the hard work of joy in our lives.
Mother Nature knows, joy doesn’t come via the vices. That’s pleasure and it’s fleeting at best. It doesn’t come through the electronic screens or in a bottle you order on Amazon. It comes from within. Some of the humans who have gone before us have written this down in many ways, hoping we’d listen so we can wake up and enjoy more of our living days…striving towards contentment and gratitude despite the cloying weight of despair and things gone awry. Making the most of what we do have, any way we can, in the time that we have it. The path ends the same way for all living things, but what we do with that path and how we cut it, that’s up to us.
So breathe deep out there. Spring will come, but we won’t feel it unless we keep putting one foot in front of the other, towards a path you create. Litter or flowers, your call.