The Impermanence of Winter

Stacey Conner essays

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It’s icy and gray here in the northern hinterlands and I have to force myself to close my eyes and visualize spring. There is no prettier place in the world—and I have been a lot of places—than the inland Pacific NW when the sun shines off the mountains. It’s like we invented pine green, snow white, tulip red, and molten butter sunshine yellow.

Last year winter just about bested me. I was so sad. Not can’t get out of bed sad, but sad enough. Sad enough to hatch wild plans for living across the world, contemplate jobs in other states, and seriously consider letting Matt buy an RV park on an icy cold, deep water lake surrounded by soldier pines. Sad enough to want to sell the house we’d coaxed into loving perfection over the last eight years. Sad enough to beg Matt to move.

I crave change when I’m struggling. I prioritize poorly, take on too much, and accomplish endless distracting little tasks while letting the big stuff, the real stuff, the actual STUFF sit and sit, gathering dust. There’s a healing balm to manic busyness and endless to do lists that soothes my sore soul. The man paid to be wiser than I am on these issues suggested that all that drive to “do” without any real forward motion looks suspiciously like an avoidance technique.

Yes, I whined, I’m sad. I’m sad the baby died and we can’t have another. I’m sad to have to live with that decision. It sucks. I’m mad at something. Statistics maybe. Big, powerful forces for order in the universe that don’t care—can’t care—about the effect of poorly dividing cells on a few small lives.

But MY GOD, I could not sit around and think about being sad all the time. Even spinning tires catch hold of the gravel every once in a while and I moved forward in fits and starts.

A friend who spent ten days at a silent meditation retreat in India told me about the concept of impermanence. When they try to sit for ten hours in meditative silence (which sounds like a recipe for MADNESS to me; I seriously think I might chew my own face off or worry myself into a silent heart attack) they were taught to think of each sensation and irritation as impermanent. Foot asleep? Just experience it; it’s impermanent. Butt numb? Explore the sensation; it’s impermanent. Mind racing? Breathe deep and follow the circles. Impermanent.

It makes a deep, resonating sense for me. Not meditation—that sounds like hell—but the concept of impermanence. It fits like a missing puzzle piece with my constant struggle to avoid rushing each moment past. To focus on the joy and not the annoying tasks to be accomplished. I love it when concepts click and something I’ve always believed, but maybe haven’t fully understood, becomes clear in a single illuminating word.

My heart hurt. It still hurts, though less constantly, and I stop and sit with it a short time each day. I try to observe it like a good little Buddhist. Yes, it’s there. It means I loved and lost. It’s impermanent, even day to day it waxes and wanes, round and full and then a mere sliver in the back of my mind.

My inability to even look at the boxes of baby clothes and gear in the basement—impermanent.

My daughter’s enormous, dramatic temper tantrums over every. single. little. thing. IMPERMANENT. (Oh please God.)

The endless battles over homework and screen time. Impermanent.

Nate climbing out of the van in the preschool line, his backpack slung professionally over his shoulder…so very impermanent.

These short frozen days fraught with darkness and pagan fears that spring will never come again are impermanent too.

When I close my eyes, I remember a fleeting afternoon last May filled with delicious baked grass smells and a lazy bike ride. I sink into it and open my mind to awareness of the sun on my shoulders, the laughter from the park, our lovely, vibrant neighborhood crawling out of hibernation. We walked to the library for new books, past Temple Beth Shalom, which I keep meaning to visit, and the fire station where they have the trucks pulled out front to wash. A suspendered fireman with a shaved head handed the kids stickers. On the next block, a cute, young Verizon repair man saw me struggling to tighten the bolt on Nate’s loose training wheel with my fingers. He walked over to us with a wrench. “That’ll hold it,” he told me after a few quick turns of the bolt.

We were wobble free for the rest of the ride. On the long walk home, our new story treasures weighing down my arm and hurting my shoulder, Quinn stopped his green bike “Stinger” and waited for me.

“I want to be a libwarian when I gwow up.”

“Really! That’s a cool job,” I gushed. “Do you want to learn to use the computers and help people find books that they need?”

“No. I want to use that coo-wel metal thing to take the plastic box off the movies.”

I know joy, like pain, is impermanent, but it’s so beautiful.

About the Author

Stacey Conner

Stacey Conner loves chai tea lattes, bedtime and being at home with her children. She hates the cold, fingerpaints and play dough. She writes about life with four children, adoption, trans-racial parenting and other issues big and small at

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