Locked Down in Winter – or the Fear of the Pause

It is snowing outside; I am sitting inside. Warm, healthy, and rested. It is well below zero and I watch the snowflakes dance through the air. Perfect crystals making tiny pirouettes before they land on each other, forming a white, flawless blanket. A friend just sent me a video of his cat sitting by the window, trying to chase them. One by one.

Life seems to be paused. As if somebody pushed a button and put the big game of life on hold. Though this winter is a Pause unlike anything we have lived through, it seems to me that the state of being paused is not entirely new. Winter tends to give us that feeling, as the world freezes over. Freezing is not really an act of destruction, it is preservation, it is a Pause. When frozen, it must feel to the lake as if time stands still. When the grass is covered in frost and snow, it will surrender and take a break before it is softened by sunlight all over again.

We know, it all flows back. So why is this so hard then, the winter, the Pause? Are we lacking stamina? Are we so out of sorts these days, that we cannot sit out some weeks until it is spring again, without loosing our minds in-between?

If you take a closer look, zoom into the lake and into the grass, you will find, freezing actually is destruction. That constant flow is only for the bigger picture and there is nothing comforting about that. The fish die when pushed to the ground by the ice, deprived of oxygen, and it is not the same grass that grows back. Life does not have a pause button; it is on a continuous and merciless roll.

That is why it takes real guts to live through a pause. When it is over, you may find that the world has gone on without you. Of course, you may also be able to step back into the game, revived and even at a better place than where you were before. I saw something like that on a documentary once. The fish in a Siberian river get defrosted when the ice melts. And they live, and they thrive in the spring water while the ice has even moved them further towards their travel destination. A kind of similar thing happened to my neighbors’ goldfish last year when it was still in the pond by the first frost. Mr. Chen, my neighbor, who insists on being called Dominik, read a lot into the saving of this fish and built a bigger and deeper pond in the following summer. 2020 will be a great year, I still hear him say.

But: Life might also go on without you. No one can promise you that it will not. The combination of lockdown and winter intensifies our innate wintery anxieties. What will we find when the snow melts? Will the grass grow back? Will it be as green as it was before? Will there be as many insects humming in it?

We see many people these days fight for an early end of the lockdown, for an end of the winter. Sometimes they even take to the streets and raise signs that make you question their sanity, or that of humankind altogether. They talk down the virus, they prefer to believe in an absurd parallel reality, where no one can be trusted, and nothing is what it seems. Anything is better than having to endure the Pause. For some of course, the lockdown poses a real and existential threat, their uproar is not purely emotional. But that is by far not true for all the people I see react in this way. And I prefer to think of them as deeply frightened, rather than as plain stupid or aggressive. Being compassionate may help to get us through this winter.

Compassion also helps to narrow down the focus to the individual. This winter’s anxiety is a very natural feeling, we can easily empathize with it. Life is suffering, you may say, but the bigger picture tends to overwhelm. You might want to focus on something smaller, even if you accept that as a fundamental truth.

If you feel left behind these days, I believe the thing to remember is this: Your life story never goes on without you. It is an adventure that is impossible to miss, and there is no such thing as a “Pause”. Live each day as if it were a chapter of a book worth reading. Rest assured that it is going to be a remarkably interesting story, as we live in interesting times. There are also many theatre plays, movies and novels that take place in a single room – and they are page turners! My neighbor Dominik Chen may have been wrong with his prediction, but the goldfish story is still great – and what is the harm in a little optimism? What if the grass grows back even greener? And finally: it is a fundamental truth of storytelling, that a hostile setting makes the protagonist only look better 😊 Enjoy that while it lasts 😉

Take good care of you and each other!

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