I don't know why it is, and certainly it's neither rational nor experiential, but around here, it always feels like winter is obligatory and spring is optional. This is just plain silly, of course, but at this particular moment--leaves half-budded, a faint blush of green in the scrub woods, a few daffodils--it feels as though spring might stop in its tracks right now, or possibly even turn backward into March.
I have lived in Canada for thirty-two years almost, and of course spring has ALWAYS happened and led right into summer, but unlike autumn--which has a ponderous inevitability about it: half grim, half glorious--spring tends to be a nervy fits-and-starts affair. Which is probably why we tend to be a bit gun-shy about it. The temperature shoots up on Wednesday and everybody rushes into shorts and T-shirts; Thursday is a day of horizontal sheeting rain; and Friday is back there in Mud Season. Getting your hopes up is cruisin' for a bruisin'. It's only around mid-May that it all settles down, just in time for the blackfly season.
Perhaps our antsiness about spring reflects something more widespread: general pessimism. Bad Stuff feels highly reliable, while Good Stuff feels chancy. In part, that's because of the way we define Good Stuff. If your definition of Good Stuff includes complete financial security, having a loving and perfectly supportive family, succeeding wildly in your chosen profession, and leading a pain-and-trouble-free existence, you are apt to be out of luck much, if not most, of the time. That's like expecting Canadian spring in mid-April, with no back-slips or fits of equivocation: dream on! If, on the other hand, your definition of Good Stuff is limited to having most of your health and much of your sanity, adequate food, water, and shelter, and the Grace of God, you're going to be more or less okay. (Which is why the poor are blessed; not because poverty is a Good Thing, but because it does tend to breed a certain hard-packed realism.) Try to get North Americans to be grateful for the basics instead of hankering after what we think we deserve; it's a losing cause.
Bad Stuff, on the other hand, we notice a lot: partly because it really can be Godawful, as in September 11th, but also because it confirms our preoccupation with the Problem of Evil. There are times when whatever-it-is--Satan, the worst part of human free will, whatever--really does seem to be winning; cf. the Middle East these days. Bad news sells newspapers, so we get extra dollops of it at the breakfast table. In a week of gradual warming, the slow unfolding of leaf buds, green spreading quietly underfoot, we notice the cold spots, not the quiet progression.
And this also goes back to our partial, often disappointing experience of love. Parents weren't the parents they should have been (and we weren't the parents we should have been, either). We notice and are deeply hurt when friends aren't there for us, when mates and lovers fail to meet our needs; we forget that they're human too, and imperfect, and sometimes selfish or needy. There never seems to be quite enough love to go around--as opposed to love's opposite, which sometimes seems so much stronger and long-lasting. Love sometimes seems as fragile, as uncertain, as spring in southern Canada at the tag end of April.
When I feel this way, I find that it helps significantly to think about people who are in much worse positions--not to rejoice in their greater sufferings, but to put my own minor problems in perspective. If we're willing to work at it, self-pity can get lost in compassion, and whatever-it-is is always easier to bear if you aren't feeling sorry for yourself, on top of having to cope with whatever-it-is. Self-pity always magnifies minor suffering into major misery; compassion heads in the opposite direction.
But it also helps to look at the bigger picture. Spring is coming; it will be here soon. This place where I live will be at its most attractive in about a month: lilacs out, peonies flaming, one flowering thing after another. That is for absolutely certain.
And for people of faith, there's always the belief--the choice to believe--that ultimately God will win out. If love sometimes feels fragile or incomplete, it's because we still have far to go, but we're heading in the right direction if the way we choose is love. We believe that while the world is a harsh and difficult place sometimes, it's still (at least potentially) responsive to God's Spirit, and that ultimately that Spirit will in fact prevail. Just as, in time, spring will win out over Mud Season here--maybe even in a couple of days, or a week. It's just a matter of hanging in there.
I just glanced out my office window. It's snowing. Not heavily; but it's definitely snowing.