It occurs to me that I should write something of a follow-up to my piece about candles in the Nordic darkness about 4 months ago already. Seasons change, and the literal and figurative darkness that I myself and people around me where struggling with back then has become a far less daunting enemy. Here in the northern part of the northern hemisphere we’re on the winning side of equinox already. The snow is gradually starting to melt off, thoughfar too gradually for many people’s taste. In some ways that makes for a suitable metaphor for other areas of life as I know it this season: clear experiences of improvement, and clear hope of still better things to come, but many leftover manifestations of the cold dark period we’re coming out of.
Another apt metaphor is traveling by car, bus or train along a route that has a series of tunnels blasted through hillsides. You know the sun is out, you know that you are getting where you have to go, but sometimes there are these passing periods of darkness that you go through. Sometimes these tunnels have openings in their sides or ceilings through which shafts of daylight are able to pass, where you can see the light in a more distant sort of way. But the point is not to get too freaked out by the darkness that you’re passing through. When it comes down to it, 5 minutes of darkness here and there in the course of an otherwise beautiful trip on a cheery spring day mean nothing.
This late winter / early spring for me has been characterized by such moments of daylight interspersed with tunnels along the way, metaphorically speaking. I hesitate to share too many details of my private life here, for obvious reasons, but for those who have followed my references to change here without knowing enough about me to read between the lines I guess I should explain a bit. This winter I have come to the end of a nearly 6 year long co-habiting relationship. Some may be scandalized to think that I could call myself a Christian and live with a woman for so long without getting married. Others may be scandalized that I would let go of a relationship that had gone on for so long without more of a fight to save it. Such is life; scandals come and scandals go. If that gives someone grounds for ad hominem dismissal of my thoughts in moral philosophy, I’ll just have to live with that.
But as it happens, dark as this time of life was in many respects, my need to find new housing corresponded with my younger son’s need to find new housing, and so nowadays for the first time in his life he and I officially live at the same address. This opportunity, together with a set of highly encouraging future prospects elsewhere, have provided me with some much needed “sunlight” during this time when the days have been getting longer otherwise. Our tiny little shared “bachelor pad” is far from perfect, but it allows for some bonding opportunities that I’ve been waiting for for over 18 years.
Even so, among the little details of this apartment that are almost comically inappropriate is it’s bathroom. In one sense it is ingeniously compact: I can’t imagine how any mobile home could squeeze as many functions into as few cubic meters of space as this does. In another sense though it is pathetically claustrophobic. Directly in front of the toilet there is nearly a half meter of leg room, but other than that, with our little washing machine installed, there is no direction in which there is more than 30 cm of open space. Basic washing routines involve taking turns doing the shimmy and the stretch over the 70 cm high ledge into the sit-down bathtub. This is pretty much functional as long as my son and I both remain relatively thin and agile, but only God knows how someone who is obese, pregnant, arthritic or otherwise physically limited could manage with such an arrangement.
And to make it that much more comical, it was apparently a single mother who rented this place before us and who made the decorating decision to paint this bathroom the brightest possible carnation pink. I really cannot imagine a less suitable color for a men’s bathroom.
Like a still more thorough spring cleaning (in terms of giving or throwing away things that no longer are needed and no longer fit into my life) stripping down that bathroom of cabinets, mirrors and appliances and re-painting it to some more neutral, functional color remains one of the top 10 items on my “when I get around to it” list. Will I ever get that done? We’ll see. No matter what we do, next year the whole bathroom will be torn apart to replace the building’s aging plumbing; so in some ways the idea of bothering to repaint feels like bothering to mow the grass at the end of the summer, or bothering to plow the last of the snow as the spring thaw begins.
This too provides a bit of a metaphor: how much energy do I really want to devote to “taking charge” of the irritating little details of my life, or how much do I just want to “go with the flow,” in a Taoist sort of way, towards the seasonal changes that are inevitably coming regardless? And regardless of my efforts, or lack thereof, in some of these silly details of life, things really are getting better. Literally and figuratively speaking, seasons are changing and spring is coming.
So the yard is still full of snow and slush and ice. What of it? Inevitably the sun will take care of that. There’s no point in going out and trying to chop the ice out of the ponds or shoveling the snow off the flower beds. Those things will take care of themselves in their own time. The balance factor is just that, when the time is right, farmers and gardeners need to be ready to spring into action and start planting.
As discouraging as pink walls and April snow storms can be then, it’s important to remember that they are temporary states of affairs. This isn’t about self-hypnosis or self-fulfilling prophecies and all that. This is about drawing strength and keeping ourselves going by recognizing that some things really aren’t worth worrying about, and other things really are worth believing in. Spring really is coming. When you drive through a tunnel it really isn’t worth panicking about the moment of darkness.
But even so, I do still have to decide what is worth doing about those damned pink bathroom walls.