Sunlight And Shadow: Life In January

By Stephen Morrow – Department Chair-Humanities Program


I love the skies of our Oklahoma January.  When it is cold and gray, it is cold and gray, no messing about! When it is clear and chilled, the blues are the most intense of Oklahoma’s beautiful sky year.  Those streaks of pale pinks straying into the lighter blue of eve speak to moderation and simplicity. Such is the tale of many of our Januarys in life.  Winters of discontent come and go, but clarity and beauty stay with us much longer and distill much deeper in our psyches. 

Our very appreciated Interim College President, Dr. Jeremy Thomas, recently addressed the faculty and staff and spoke to the difference between treading water and moving forward in these uncertain times. Covid, in all of its tragic and disruptive forms, indeed, has many of us feeling like we are just hanging on-treading water.  Loss and confusion visit so many of us in our community. But forward we must go.  A new term, a new year, new challenges meet us this early January.  The direction forward is a direction we all share in life. Energy called for in life is both inner and outer. Poets often like to remind us that the inner energy finds a likely home in the season of winter. Like the energies and processes so alive beneath the leafless limbs and gray trunks of a winter tree.  I think of the sap running through a winter maple soon to be processed and distilled by the maple tree farmers of the Northeast. Cold and slow and drip and life-doing-what-it-does turn one day into a syrup to sweeten our days.  Patience and watchfulness are the virtues of a good maple syrup farmer. We, too, can bring patience and watchfulness to our winter of change and challenge as a way forward.

Patience is a virtue, yes. And any virtue asks a lot out of each of us (why I try to keep a focused but very short list of virtues to live by).  The shadow of patience is a dark one!  Is being patient waiting too long, treading that water, being less courageous, being ineffective in action, being caught in sticky inertia?  These questions that sap our faith in patience have their place in the reflection of moving forward. In fact, reflection becomes a basic element of patience itself. The sitting and appearance of non-action and non-movement in patience is actually a rather frantic movement behind the scenes: what am I to do and how and when am I to do it?! Behind the scenes-not unlike the maple trees produce their sap behind hidden trunks and bark. So, let there be a shadow as long as the questions finally seep out into the light of rational thought. Seep out into that place where you can share and talk and process with others who you trust.  We share the life process of doing-what-is-next. Shadow at heart is always making us think we are alone when in truth, we never have to be.

Interesting to me that January is Dr. King’s month. So appropriate. The month to carry heaviness and hardship into lightness and justice. It is in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that Dr. King wrestles out loud with the shadow of patience. When and how to move against the legacy of injustice and the illness of inequality? For him, it was through the patience that nonviolence demands, but with the vitality that virtue demands.  In his letter, he talks of “tension,” a “type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.” This growth, this tension, this sap, this energy, this way forward.  No waiting to do what is right, but first finding the sap that drives our choices and actions.

Stephen Socrates Morrow (Courtesy Photo).

The sunlight of patience is almost brilliance. That action has become informed with reason, that listening has become informed with compassion, that challenge has become informed with virtue and vitality.  In the reflection time of patience and with the watchful eye patience allows, we can transform the things that matter. Move forward in success: live in the patience of self-care and growth; sign-up for classes: live in the patience that is the support the College and faculty will afford you; know grief and loss: live in the patience that is those who are your rock and support; balance all the hectic weights of life: live in the patience that is you doing the best you can in the present without the worry, guilt, or self-criticism of what might be or “should” be.

If you are like me, you will immediately ask, “And when in the heck do I have time for all this patience?!”  That is a question each of us deals with in our own context, BUT, two proven helps: stop to appreciate what you do have and be grateful; just stopping to look at the Good in your life and take stock is a gratitude in itself. Those clear blue January skies. Second, no superheroes or Perfect Paulines needed. Cold and gray come and go-it’s how life routinely works. Humanness calls for community-us together doing our small part to care for ourselves and to care for those around us, regardless of the January weather in our lives.

Back to those maple farmers of the Northeast.  As they trudge around the cold snowy woods, tap, and bucket in hand, they are graced with fresh air and bounty in nature. As we trudge around this semester with texts in hand and a thinking mind seeking the light of day (even a gray, dreary January day), we are graced with the community and the growth that knowledge promises. Not bad for any month. With President Thomas and the College, with the beautiful Oklahoma skies, and with each other, let’s move forward, sweetness at hand.

Connect with Professor (Epicurus) Morrow at smorrow@occc.edu