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ESSAY: Winter Shines with Death's Light


It seems sometimes that winter is the season when death is most around us.  Lake Effect essayist George Berdes notices that notion:

There is something at once depressing and compelling about the approaching death that we know as winter.

Leaves ‑‑ green and trembling with the excitement of life such a short time ago, now lay prostate…brown and decaying. Wildlife has retreated to darkened caves…tombs really. The day’s light is sullen, short.

The signs of death surround us, overwhelming in their somber message.

“You, too,” they say. “One day…you know not when…your light will dim. You who now laugh and love and run will shrivel into black dust ‑‑ like the leaves.”

To all of this we hitch up our mental collars and lean into the wind. We try to forget. Icy blasts distract us. We rush to find shelter from it all.

Death is not a gentle foe. Believe me, I know. After all, who can beat it? No matter what we do, it always wins. Its pervasive snows cover us. We hide but it always finds us.

Yes, winter is the time to think about death.

What is this relentless hound that sniffs us out only to snuff us out? So cruel and savage is its bite that our fear keeps us from talking about it ‑‑ even thinking about it. Have you ever noticed that ‑‑ the secret din of our silence?

For some, that silence about death is natural, even right. After all, they say, that’s what death is ‑‑ an endless still void. There is no there there. Why give thought and time to nothingness? They say this honestly, unflinchingly. Are they right?

For others, death is a gnawing mystery, a dark puzzlement. Not doubters. But not believers either. “We just don’t know,” they say. “Is there a road so long that it never ends?” they ask. Good question.

And then, of course, there are still others…souls aglow, steeped in belief, giddy in trust. “Death is not the end, it is the start.” That’s the sureness to which they cling. Silly fools? Who’s to say?

Amid such competing confusion ‑‑ rejection, wonder, and redeeming hope ‑‑ only one thing seems certain: winter is the time to think about death.

Beneath winter’s white, icy shroud lie hints to the riddle. Death is certain…inevitable, final. That’s one message. But below that frozen cover, deep within the silence of it, lies another message.

Its muffled murmurings are but whispers, low and indistinct, yet continuous. Listen sharply, bend your ear close.

The sound comes from voiceless lips…without words. It rises from that which is dead. Hope is hard to hear. Promise hides in a spring too distant to see, to contemplate or to believe.

But look! How strange! The sound brings with it a light. See…there in the dark void…a seed of light glimmers. What is it…that strange light? What is it called?

The murmur answers with a soft, gentle utterance and this is what it says: “It goes by the name ‘Fulfilled Promise.’ From long ago it is called ‘the Light no eye has seen.’ Rise to it.”

Lake Effect essayist George Berdes lives part of the year in the north woods, and now deals with wintertime cabin fever in Milwaukee.  Many of his essays first appeared on WXPR and on his blog, East of Eagle River – he’s sharing them now with us, as well.