Growing up on Los Angeles, I never really appreciated the seasons. As the old joke goes, Southern California has only two: brushfire season and mudslide season. This seems even more true these days, whether the underlying cause is climate change or a failure to rake the forests.
But having lived a large portion of my life in the Midwest and East, I have grown to appreciate what I missed as a kid. I never saw snow fall until I was an adult, and I still love the muffled softness of a city draped in white. I’m less crazy about the humidity of summer, but the whirr of the cicadas is so evocative of a hot summer afternoon, the grass just mowed and a glass of lemonade sweating next to me on the patio.
And fall, how can I not delight every year in that riot of color that I never really knew in LA, with deciduous trees aflame in reds and oranges and yellows, and the crunch of leaves underfoot? It is a bittersweet time of year, when winter’s impending deathlike sleep is not far off, and yet nature throws one last party before the landscape turns to a dark monochrome.
Winter is like the Lent of the seasons. I’ve never really lived where people make winter a recreational bonanza. In the states where I’ve lived, winter is more a place where one turns inward.
Dark departures in the morning. Dark arrivals in the evening. Neighbors who walk briskly by your house as if racing to get some exercise before their toes and their fingers go numb. Winter seems a time when death has the upper hand. Spring seems unimaginably far off.
I lost a good friend this winter, the writer and publisher Bob Lockwood.
Losing a friend in winter seems twice a loss. The absence of the person and the absence of a beloved fellow traveler in what he labeled The Great Dark. Bob and I cheered each other up after Christmas by penny ante bets on NFL playoff games.
He would never bet on the Giants because he ached for them to win, and I usually bet on the Patriots because I hoped I’d jinx them. It was a modest little game of distraction, lasting until the Super Bowl. Then winter would get serious, he’d say, with no football and no baseball in the deep freeze to follow.
Bob was a deceptively complicated man who was a fierce defender of the ordinary Catholic in the pew. He was extraordinarily well-read in church history and a gifted writer who had no tolerance for an over-intellectualized faith or for those who ape every trend and fad coming down from pooh-bahs of secular culture. He had a big heart but loathed political correctness.
What Bob was first and foremost was a thoughtful Christian who knew a thing or two about sin and about humility, and who responded with great charity to all who struggled with faith or addiction or the daily challenges of life.
My life is much the poorer for his absence, but he would not be overly tolerant of my self-pity. In the last column he wrote for OSV Newsweekly, he described the Lent of being in the hospital with all its indignities. But lest we get the wrong idea, he drew our attention back to what really mattered. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who thought it was a farewell message meant for me.
His last words: “Have a blessed Lent. … And we will meet in joy at Easter morning.”
Dear God, I hope so.
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Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.