The winter thaw here in Winnipeg leaves quite the mess behind. And so without fail every spring the trucks come out to patch up the missing chunks of road, and no parking signs are erected before the street sweepers arrive, when the dirt and grime and grit of winter is cleaned up for another year.
The roads don’t have a say as to what is deposited on them; leftover leaves, sand, rock, chunks of broken up curb that the front end loaders have lifted as they remove the snow from the road, these are all left behind as evidence of winter’s wrath. What to do with all this mess? The options are few: leave it and live with the mess, or take the time to get the roads back in good working condition.
I am grateful to live in a place that pays attention to the messy leftovers of the hard season of winter.
Walking with my son today I was noticing the evidence of winter on the streets near my home; these bits and pieces of the left behind season have been a bone of contention in our home for a few weeks now. You see, my little guy got a brand new skateboard for his birthday this past winter and he’s pretty keen on putting it to use. He’s got the helmet, the knee pads, the wrist guards, and the elbow pads that don’t ever seem to stay put. He’s been practicing his moves on the carpeted basement floor, but is ready to get on the road and start rolling.
But he can’t.
Unfortunately, through no fault of his own but rather due to circumstances beyond his control, the conditions of the road are such that skateboarding is not quite yet possible. Rock bits and debris clutter the roadways, and it is impossible for him to get any momentum without something getting stuck under a wheel, and he comes to a halt.
Clean up needs to happen before he can get moving.
Is this not like our own lives? I know for myself that there have been seasons of strain and struggle, when the muck and debris of life has left a nasty trail. When these hard times end, it is frequent that there are some leftovers to tend to – bits and pieces to sort out and clean up in order to move freely into the new, brighter, more hopeful season.
Sometimes adverse circumstances, unskilled caregivers, traumas, or a number of events that are far beyond our control impact our own personal road conditions and when our hard seasons end, more often than not, there is clean up that needs to happen before we can move forward with ease and without interruption.
I see this reality play out in counselling time and time again. Folks come to therapy because they’re getting tripped up by rocks left on the path during a cold and bleak spell, and they keep losing momentum. These folks are often frustrated that they can’t seem to get going – because like my kiddo who has been practicing his moves – he knows he can do it, it’s just that the conditions aren’t right.
Maybe you know you can be a tender, soft inviting parent, but the pain of your own poor parenting experience in childhood gets in the way of you fully realizing that potential tenderness that’s tucked away inside. Or perhaps you know you could be the empathetic and supportive partner your spouse needs, but negative experiences with an ex have left to you too afraid to show up gently. Sometimes the leftover debris of our past experiences leave the path so cluttered that we can’t move forward in an unencumbered way.
It’s not unusual for a counsellor to hear someone say, “You can’t change the past, I don’t see the point in digging up all this old stuff when you can’t change what happened.” I get this – you can’t undo the hurts, heartaches, and losses of hard seasons.
No amount of talking will change the reality of winter.
But perhaps therapy is more like the pothole fillers and street sweepers, rather than a process of forgetting or undoing. Therapy is a space to do the clean up work – where together with some skilled help, you figure out which roadways were cracked and need care, gently move the stones and debris out of the way, and make a way to move freely forward.
Today is the day the sweepers are supposed to come. It means we can’t park on the road. Because sometimes, doing work means other things have to adjust. Maybe the work of therapy means another commitment has to go on the backburner. Maybe it means you buy more pre-cooked chickens for supper and give yourself permission to go easy on a few other tasks while you’re working at cleaning up your own debris.
My hope for people is that when faced with two options, to either leave it and live with the mess, or take the time to get things back in order – that they choose the second. Because rolling smoothly down clear roads in the warm spring air is something to wonderful to miss.