The other day, it was a bunch of purple tulips, bought at the flower shop down the street from my office. Yesterday, it was a phone call with my sister. Last week, it was a long solo walk after work, through a dark, snow-covered park in downtown Boston, with a stop at Starbucks afterward for a cup of rich hot chocolate.
Some mornings, it’s the fragrant tea I brew in my favorite cobalt blue mug, or the round stainless-steel half-teaspoon I use to scoop the loose tea into a mesh strainer. Right now, as I sit on my couch and type, it’s a cozy faux-fur blanket, under which I have spent the entire afternoon.
Snow has been our companion for most of the last two weeks, when the first nor’easter of this winter dumped two feet of snow onto most of New England. We’ve had two more massive storms since then, without a chance for the first snow to melt (not that it’s been warm enough). So our south-of-Boston suburb is buried under more than four feet of snow. We are tired and cold, and we know it’s not over. For Texas transplants, like myself and my husband — and even for native New Englanders — this winter is a tough one. We need a little brightness in our lives.
* * *
A couple of years ago, I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s memoir Leaving Church, followed closely by her luminous second book, An Altar in the World. Both books recount an incident that led to a simple, powerful question — a question Taylor says she revisits every so often, and to which I keep returning during this long, hard winter.
Many years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to come speak at his church in Alabama. “What do you want me to talk about?” I asked him.
“Come tell us what is saving your life now,” he answered. It was as if he had swept his arm across a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground. I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone. I did not have to use theological language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church. All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves.
That phrase — what is saving your life now? — has become a sort of reset button for me, a way to sift through the daily stresses of my life and pinpoint the things that are making it worthwhile. It’s all too easy, on many days, to reel off a list of what’s killing me: a hard day at work, too many deadlines, family worries, disturbing headlines from my city and around the world. (And of course, lately, the weather. Every day.)
So, this winter, I’m finding it worthwhile — even necessary — to name the things that are saving my life. Sometimes I scribble down a list in my journal (a gift from my sister last Christmas, and itself a lifesaver). Sometimes I take the time to write a blog post, with pictures of those purple tulips or a brave blue winter sky. Most often, I’m trading daily texts with my friend Laura, both of us doing our best to find and name the things that are saving our lives. The act of naming them often becomes a lifesaver, a welcome glimpse into the brighter side of this world. (Though sometimes — full disclosure — we also gripe about the things that are killing us. Sometimes venting can save my life, too.)
The weather forecast — I know, without looking at it — is still depressing. February isn’t over, and March in New England is often cold and raw. There will be frigid, snowy days; there will be delayed commuter trains; there will be other stresses, some winter-related, some not. But there will also be bowls of spicy black bean soup, served with a dollop of Greek yogurt. There will be cups of Earl Grey, books that make me laugh and cry, a hug from my husband at the end of a long day. And there will be texts from Laura, sharing the snippets of joy in her days and reminding me to ask: what is saving my life today?
If you need a question to lift you out of the doldrums, I hope you’ll join us in asking this one.
Katie Noah Gibson is a writer, editor, knitter, and compulsive tea-drinker living in the Boston area. Born in Texas, she’s a lifelong Anglophile but loves to travel just about anywhere. You can find her at her blog, Cakes, Tea and Dreams, reviewing books at Shelf Awareness, or on Twitter at @katiengibson.