Help for the Winter Blues

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My friend Cassie is, like me, a bit of a word freak. Years ago, she taught me a new, old word; one that’s so old in fact, it’s not used anymore. And that’s a shame because it’s a good one, particularly, if you struggle to manage January’s long, dark hours.

The word is apricity and it means the warmth of the sun in winter.

A delightful word for a delightful thing, as Merriam-Webster describes it, the word apricity entered the lexicon in the 17th century, but evidently, never caught on. It is not found in any modern dictionary.

It was cold in Texas over the weekend, but clear and blue, just like it is, minus the snowdrifts, in the high plains desert of New Mexico or the Colorado Rockies. I recall a thousand times, pausing on my cross country skis in the still, white silence of the Blanco Basin and turning my face to the sun, letting the warmth of it settle into my bones, like glitter fluttering to the ground on New Year’s Eve.

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Sam enjoying apricity. – Blanco Basin. Colorado. 2007

Yesterday, I headed out with my dogs, and as I walked out of the shade of our pine grove, the sun hit my back.

Apricity! I thought, and a little shiver rolled up my spine. It made me think of Cassie too. She’s an artist and I wonder if she’s ever painted how apricity feels.

As I walked around the lake, the breeze rustled the bullrushes and I stopped and looked up, staring at a sky I’d call Colorado blue. It only occurs certain times of year in Texas, and it’s beautiful particularly when the trees, stripped of their leaves, stand naked in contrast to it.

I felt the Lord saying, Look up! Keep looking up. That’s where the beauty and promise is. And yet, how often, when I’m discouraged, do I fix my eyes on the asphalt and mud.

When we are dark and cold – wrestling with depression, fear or discouragement – we can always look up and let the sun hit our faces. Apricity is free.

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But some days the sun just isn’t out. So, here are two other strategies:

Kindness:

My pastor often says, when you’re feeling shriveled and dry, like that wrinkled, creepy guy – Gollum – in Lord of the Rings, the antidote is to squeeze out a drop or two of kindness from whatever reservoir you have left. Hold a door for a stranger, let another driver in your lane. Encourage someone – anyone. Tell someone they have a lovely smile. It’s amazing what torrents of living water rush through you after you have watered someone else. Especially when you don’t feel like it.

Community:

Have you seen that meme on Facebook this week, where people are offering a cup of tea and a listen to anybody feeling depressed in the dark hours of the new year? What a smart impulse.

When the darkness beckons us back into bed, to dwell on all the things that are not, people on Facebook are offering a “cuppa” as my British and Aussie friends call it. Who doesn’t feel better after a good cup of tea in the warmth of a friend’s living room? It’s a brave and effective way of beating back the darkness. It’s the human expression of apricity.

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After spending some time in African cultures lately, this is something I admire in them very much. The friendship. The solidarity in suffering. The impulse toward togetherness. It’s beautiful and I’m afraid we in the West have gone the opposite way – favoring privacy, individuality and solitude. Don’t get me wrong, those thing have value too, but when you’re stuck in the cold dark hours of winter, you need sunshine and friends.

Did you ever notice, Jesus never sent the disciples out alone? They always traveled at least two-by-two, and they were warmed by the light of the world.

There’s probably something to that.

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