Finding beauty within the bareness
When winter has come.
May your festive season be filled with a post-booster-filled bounty of rapid at-home tests, always negative results, and canoodling with your loved one(s) under the mistletoe.
Also: if you’re a government official hosting a cheese and wine evening with 40 of your closest colleagues during a lockdown, try not to get the goings-on recorded. That’s so 2020!
One nugget of wisdom I’ve gleaned during the pandemic is that gratitude and grieving aren’t mutually exclusive. Indeed, the “festive” season is a time when they quite easily co-exist. Yes, this is (hopefully) a time for togetherness, and for counting one’s blessings. But it’s also a time when the travails of the world, and the distance from the people and places you care about, can feel particularly acute.
I’m a big fan of Alan Jacobs’s weekly newsletter. He recently shared an excerpt from W.H. Auden’s long poem For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. Written in 1941/2, it feels particularly apposite for Christmas 2021:
If, on account of the political situation,
There are quite a number of homes without roofs, and men
Lying about in the countryside neither drunk nor asleep,
If all sailings have been cancelled till further notice,
If it’s unwise now to say much in letters, and if,
Under the subnormal temperatures prevailing,
The two sexes are at present the weak and the strong,
That is not at all unusual for this time of year.
If that were all we should know how to manage. Flood, fire,
The desiccation of grasslands, restraint of princes,
Piracy on the high seas, physical pain and fiscal grief,
These after all are our familiar tribulations,
And we have been through them all before, many, many times.
As events which belong to the natural world where
The occupation of space is the real and final fact
And time turns round itself in an obedient circle,
They occur again and again but only to pass
Again and again into their formal opposites,
From sword to ploughshare, coffin to cradle, war to work,
So that, taking the bad with the good, the pattern composed
By the ten thousand odd things that can possibly happen
Is permanent in a general average way.
The world is awash with words that mean a lot, and with words that mean scarcely anything, though it seems to me that too often it is the meaningless words that get the most airtime, that are printed on repeat and strewn about the towns and cities and wild places. … But for those who are paying attention there is beauty within the bareness of the winter northern hemisphere months. … There is beauty in the way winter neglects all but the essential, in how the streetlamps can get confused and stay on all day, in how we wait for things, in how we hold on tightly. If you added it all up the beauty would be louder, resolutely so, than the meaningless.
Here’s to: waiting, holding on tightly, and finding beauty within the bareness.
A very deep bow of appreciation to the readers who donated to my AIDS/Lifecycle fundraising campaign. Y’all helped me reach 27% of my $3000 fundraising target: Thank you! If you haven’t yet, but would still like to donate (I would be over the moon if you did!), you can do so here. Donations go towards providing HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and counselling services in LA and SF. For US taxpayers, they’re tax deductible, too!
Introducing a pithy, pop-up newsletter! Starting 1 January, donors (and anyone else who feels like subscribing) will receive a weekly newsletter, sweat and tyres, offering [extremely] pithy reflections and a pic or two from the road to AIDS/Lifecycle. Think of it almost like an Instagram post sliding into your inbox every Sunday. It’ll run until June, the week after the ride. (And don’t you worry: if you get lycra fatigue and hit the unsubscribe button, I won’t take it personally.) You can find out more here. Each week, I’m sure we’ll find answers to burning questions like:
What did Alex do when there was zero cell signal, not another human for miles, and he STILL hadn’t figured out how to change a flat tyre?
After over two years in the USA, why does he insist on using UK spelling for “tires” anyway?
Was that a pod of grey whales or just a flurry of wind-whipped waves?
WTF, why did that truck come SO close to ending his training once and for all?
You don’t have to donate to subscribe to sweat and tyres, but below are two buttons encouraging you to do both/either. (God. I’m not normally this pushy, sorry! And there are many good causes and many good newsletters, so no offence taken if you do neither. I’m just trying to make sure I don’t have to resort to OnlyFans to reach my fundraising goal.)
See you in 2022! Replies are always appreciated, long or short — and *even* if they don’t contain training tips or protein smoothie recipes. Thanks, bro!