The Gift of Winter in Italy.

Winter in Italy

An Umbrian Winter © 2018 Jed Smith

A confession right up front: for most of my life I’ve despised winter (even winter in Italy) and looked on it as something to just get through. I adore warm weather and living in shorts and flips flops. Sure, I know how to dress warmly and keep the colder elements at bay, but I’ve done it with a certain amount of resentment and an attitude of “less than.” This is my fifth winter in Italy and, thankfully, this normally-challenging season is opening my eyes to the beauty that I’ve refused to see for most of my life.

The beauty of being stripped naked.

Why haven’t I seen this before? Why have I not appreciated the underlying structure of trees simply because I’ve been fixated on full-foliage and greenery as the happiest of states? Why am I just now seeing and embracing the potential that lies in wait in the midst of winter?

Andrew Wyeth, probably my favorite artist of all time, was adept at embodying the barren beauty of winter in his paintings. Consider his words:

“I prefer winter and Fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape–the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show. ”
Andrew Wyeth

Chasing non-stop warmth and happiness is a futile and energy-sucking endeavor.

This is my belief. Maybe I’m wrong, but this seems to be what life is teaching me. I’m grateful that the dramatic change of scenery and lifestyle that comes with moving to Italy has opened my eyes.

As I write this, I sit in the Umbria home of a dear friend. I’m housesitting for a few days, and I’m smack dab in the middle of profound silence––so much in fact that you might say the silence is deafening. Neurotic thinking is more readily exposed. An unspoken voice tells me to stop and to be present. Suddenly my eyes are seeing things differently.

A walk down a tree-lined drive.

Yesterday, I needed to move my limbs and get my blood pumping. So, I donned my jacket and my baseball cap and headed out and down my friend’s long, winding drive, lined with linden trees and cypresses. The linden trees (in the photo above) spoke to me as I passed, reminding me, that despite appearances, they are still full of life and potential. I needed to hear that. I needed to be reminded of the hope and potential of all seasons of nature and the seasons of my life. I’m reminded that living is about accepting and embracing the changes, the ups and downs. And, I’m heartened to remember that even though things may, at times, seem devoid of visible life or potential, I can rest in “what is,” whatever that is. And I remember if one thing is certain, it’s change.

Winter in Italy also makes me aware of my tendency to fill up my wakeful moments with doing and thinking. Consider winter as a metaphor for allowing things to just sit, rest, and recharge themselves. I hope I can refrain from running from the “winter moments” of my life year round. It’s okay to sit, to wait, and not fill the silence because I’m uncomfortable. Yes, life is still at work in spite of inaction and silence. I believe such times can be the magical moments when we get out of driver’s seat and allow other things to show up without our need to control.

So, thank you to this winter in Italy for waking me up to something to which I’ve been blind in the past. Sure, this can happen anywhere, and Italy doesn’t have the monopoly on revealing this kind of beauty. But, for me, I’m grateful that this has been a gift given to me by living here.

In closing, I share with you one of my favorite quotes:

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.”

– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet