Winter and Other Discontents

Well, according to my almanac (that?s MY almanac) today is the first day of winter?at least in New York.

In Riverside Park about 98% of the leaves are off the trees and its cold enough for my winter coat and hat.
People walk (jog, stumble along) a little faster and there?s that feeling that no matter how much the weather might change, its not going much over 50 or so degrees during the daytime for quite a while.
So we have, what??Three more months?and a touch more?of cold, grayness, hard winds, mabye snow and ice?Till early to mid-March, then the season begins to change again?

Since I dislike winter?dislike it intensely, (despite its fitting neatly into nature and God?s plan)?I am cheered by the fact that time often does seem to move so quickly; The shortest day of the year is only 16 days off, and the whole year turns on its axis at that point. December 17th has a minute more light and then? up we go, faster than a speeding tortoise! ?Though, really, you don?t notice the increase in light till around late January?

Looking into my I Ching, the book of all wisdom (and you thought that was TV Guide), we find that particular Eastern comfort about the seasons, the changes, the dark moving into the light and back into the dark… And that comfort is?? Simply this: IT?S NOT PERSONAL, DUDE! (actually, I think that?s the more modern translation?the one I have is the old Richard Wilhelm version).
Anyway, the great neurosis of the west?and I like to think I embody that as well as anyone?is a kind of personal, anthropomorphic view of God, Fate, Eternity, etc? That God is watching you and yours at all times. So, for instance, if you are mean and vicious, take candy from children and yell at your old mother; God, in his/her/its righteous wrath, will wither your limbs, destroy your crops and turn your first born into a Young Republican.
Taking it further into personal grandiosity, one has the feeling that one is responsible for all the bad, (and sometimes all the good) that might happen anywhere in one?s immediate vicinity. (One story I?ve never forgotten appeared in The Daily News, the day after the first great blackout in New York City in November 1965. A nine year old boy was walking along the street out in Queens, wacking light poles with a stick. As he hit one more pole, all the lights?subsequently in the entire city?went out. He ran crying to mother, who eventually had to take him to speak to a ?counselor? because he thought he knocked out all the power in New York… Now there’s a boy after my own heart)

Anyway, this philosophy of all things in life and nature being personal is best summed up in the great religious poetry of J. Fred Coots: ?You better watch out, You better not cry. You better not pout, I?m telling you why? Santa Claus is coming to Town… He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you?re awake. He knows if you?ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!?
And there you have it, the entire basis of Judeo-Christian religion and all its subsequent laws and practices–not to mention about 98% of all our upbringings in America.
This is the child?s view of life (and afterlife), which, as I say, is at the very foundation of many of the world?s ?great? religions. (And its not just me saying this?I have back-up? Check out Siggy Freud?s Civilization and Its Discontents)

But the I Ching, one of the great books of mankind, and part of the ancient and noble tradition of Taoism and Buddhism, seems to be telling us soemthing different, which, simply put, is this: ?Its not your fault, babe? Beyond a certain point of personal responsibility, of right acting, of understanding the personal nature of Karma? Beyond these things, most of what happens in the world?sometimes even in your immediate world?is a matter of ?forces?, of the pull and sway and back and forth of eternal energies; the interchange of light and dark, the movement of up and down? Always moving, never resting; Once in a while halted or stagnated, but always, no matter what, changing.? (I know, the I Ching can be very wordy).
In other words, it didn?t? get cold just because ?it? has it in for you?so stop whining. (again, from the more modern translation

Anyway its winter? Which, in the northern part of the country, is bare black branches against gray sky, gusts of sharp wind that infiltrate themselves past hat and scarf, and alternating states of jail-house-fever/coziness-against-the-cold that you feel in your house or apartment when the freezing temperatures drive you inside.

Winter? comes every year right about this time, even with Global warming, hotly contested elections and increased dosages of anti-depressants? Nothing you can do about it?at least according to the I Ching and The National Weather Service.
Oh, I guess you could take a trip to Florida or Mexico?if you had the money.
Or even move to your southern house for ?the season? if you really had money. (And, of course, some kids are off at college down south).
But, alas, most of us are bound, by family and financial constraints, to live through it all until the buds start to plump up, coats get traded for jackets again and a couple of major holidays tell us its time for things to warm up.

So, of course, my personal dislike?even hatred?of winter; with its freezing cold, pale light and absence of warmth, is just that?personal?and no more than that. And if one is to live in the world without howling at the ?unfairness? and difficulty of it, one has to harmonize with the change of seasons?consign all these movements to the great eternal void? Leave the driving to them, so to speak? And its not just the change of seasons on the calendar, but also the change of seasons in your life? joinings and separations, comings and goings; happiness and sadness, birth, growth, aging, death, and then, some kind of rebirth?much imagined and variously expressed, but, in the end, completely unknowable. All of this is so much less under your control than you want it to be, or once thought is might be.

So, Winter is here and Santa Claus is coming to town. But when he?s done gawking at the tree in Rockefeller Center and buying useless shit at the Disney store in Times Square, Santa will also be leaving town; making himself scarce until its time for him to show up again. And really, you must know finally (all children under 60 should leave the room at this point), that he doesn?t see when you?re sleeping; he doesn?t know when you?re awake. He couldn?t care less if you?ve been bad or good, so the only reason to be good really is for goodness sake.

Spring is just around the corner?

– Mike Feder (New York City – December 5, 2004)

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