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MOTIVATIONAL MUSINGS: Like life’s frequent challenges, the winter doldrums will soon pass

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The book of Matthew tells us that God sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. The way it’s poured down over East Tennessee the past few weeks, I’d say He’s covering his bases.

It’s nearing the end of the fourth day of 2019 as I write this, and I’m pretty sure today is the first time I’ve seen the sun all year. It’s been noticeably absent in recent weeks, with a seemingly permanent cloud bank casting a pall over our little corner of the world. I feel like the Vitamin D deficiency is causing me to develop a case of rickets.

(In all seriousness, a few years ago the Seattle Times newspaper detailed the effects that a lack of sunlight has on the citizens of the dreary Northwest: “A growing body of evidence suggests it can raise your risk of cancer, increase susceptibility to heart attack, diabetes and other disorders, and at least partly account for the region’s sky-high rates of multiple sclerosis.” If the sun doesn’t come out soon, I’ll be paranoid that every chest pain is signaling an oncoming heart attack and every muscle tic is an announcement of the onset of MS.)

And then there are the mental effects: Vitamin D ensures our brain produces the right amounts of seratonin, the feel-good chemicals in the brain that keep us from sliding into depression. Seasonal affective disorder is a very real thing for a lot of people, and I’d be willing to bet that the past few weeks of nuclear winter-like gloom has caused a spike in the number of people battling those morose winter blues.

It’s funny how, despite our technological advancements and leaps in evolution, we’re still tied on a very primal level to what goes on in nature. Standing in the entryway to my house on New Year’s Eve, watching the water pour forth from fat swirling clouds, drifting in circles several inches deep around the cul-de-sac and running in rivulets out of the storm drains, I could almost feel the cold and dampness seeping into every pore. A cold winter rain is the most bone-chilling kind, so deep that for us arthritic types, every joint seems to be filled with ground glass and a semi-permanent ache stays with us from the moment our feet hit the floor in the morning until we lie down at the end of the day.

It was all I could do on New Year’s Day to stay out of a coma. The oppressive weather seemed to creep through the blinds and attach itself to my eyelids, and for most of the day, when I wasn’t eating or doing a bit of work, I was sprawled out in the recliner, hibernating to the best of my ability.

To console myself, I’ve taken to checking out my buddy Haig’s profile on Facebook. He’s a sailboat captain in Key West and a dear, old friend, and when I see pictures of him at the wheel of his boat The Danger, slicing through water so blue it looks like a painting beneath a blazing orb of gold and a few fat white clouds on the horizon, I can escape from winter for a little bit. And then I’ll glance outside, and I send him a random text of obscenities out of envy. (A recent conversation: “It’s freezing down here! A cold front came through, and it dropped down into the 60s!”)

This, I think, is the roughest time of year. The holidays are done, and the dead of winter is upon us. The land is brown and soggy, and the mountains that so many of us love and call home look like the unforgiving Scottish highlands in the distance. I half expect to hear bagpipes every time I catch sight of them on the horizon, the low-hanging clouds wandering through canopy of evergreen and naked deciduous like skeletal fingers.

It’s difficult to maintain an attitude of gratitude during this time of year. But if we can just hold on a couple of months, East Tennessee will reward us with the nirvana that is spring around these parts.

If I close my eyes, I can almost smell the blossoms of Bradford pears and dogwoods, a rank and wild scent that signals the awakening of plant life. The overhanging trees along Hunt Road give birth to new greenery like a woman modeling a new coat; the mountains come alive again in verdant splendor.

And the sun ... that elusive, fickle mistress of the skies ... is there anything more divine than that first true day of spring, the one that pays no attention to the calendar? The day the sun’s warmth feels genuine and here to stay, when standing outdoors for a few minutes, face upturned to her rays, is enough to put a smile on our face for hours? The morning when we can drive to work or school with the windows down and the music turned up? The evening when we emerge from our places of employment or education and realize with delight that the night’s coming temperatures won’t chill us to our marrow?

I don’t think we’re ever closer to our primitive, cave-dwelling selves than on that first day of spring. Our bodies soak up the warmth and the light, and the reptilian parts of our brains remember what it was like long ago to depend on the cycles of the seasons for our very existence.

It’s not that way for us any longer, but during these dreary days of winter, it sure feels like it. I, for one, reach a point when I’d trade every electronic gadget I have for an afternoon lying in tall grass beneath an azure sky, my prone body absorbing all of the sunlight it can. This time of year, those are my dreams, and the light I get is that I receive from all of you: from this place, this job we do and the hope that those who come to us no longer have to dwell under the clouds of addiction.

Take hope and hold on, dear friends. The sun is coming soon, and we will get through this season together.