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winter 2001 joy marks the gifts

By Elizabeth Bennefeld

Snow Dancer
"Snow Dancer", by Tracy Brooks
I have always looked forward to the coming of winter. The cold winds and snow keep folks at home except for the most necessary chores, and nearly every outing is considered, rather than impulsive. Here in North Dakota, winter weather often arrives in November and lingers into late March or even early April.

Of course, life cannot come to a halt for four or five months, but in the beginning of the winter season, the pace slows once holiday chores are completed. I find myself looking forward to the storm warnings and blizzards and unplowed streets, even with the danger that we might lose the electricity that keeps the furnace running.

The week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day I consider to be mine alone. It's a time for sitting back and reflecting on life, for doing the little things that had been put aside, for praying, and for writing down and clarifying my thoughts.

It's also a time for self-indulgence. Because I am self-employed, I seldom get a real vacation, but this is my chance at it! During this week to ten days, I can sleep in and stay up late. The answering machine handles my telephone calls for me, and the e-mail remains unread.

I've noticed, particularly over the past four or five years, that more and more demands crowd in to squeeze out leisure activities and inactivity in general according to the laws of inertia: things in motion tend to remain in motion.. Maybe it's that I have accumulated too many affiliations over the years. This sacred time is becoming more difficult to preserve, as I hear the phrase, "Since I know you don't have anything scheduled for --, I thought you might ..."

Over the years, I have accumulated a lot of commitments and interests to juggle: my husband's family activities and mine, the amateur radio club, service organizations, the local Friends Monthly Meeting, and my various Internet and writers' groups. In some cases, I have made commitments, but often assumptions are made, and I find myself trying to follow through on the--sometimes unspoken--expectations of others.

The press of daily events and the generally increased pace of life don't help. There's new computer hardware and software to learn about, current world events to take in and evaluate, life events of family and friends to attend to and remember. I would never survive, these days, without my organizer software.

I have come to realize that there aren't enough hours in the day even to keep current on developments in astronomy, which used to be one of my major passions. The underlying anxiety of life in a country currently at war makes it increasingly difficult even to relax and think or to complete tasks that require more than rote activity. I more and more often arrive at the end of the day exhausted, but having accomplished nothing. When I last had the piano tuned, I realized that I hadn't even played it more than a handful of times in the previous year. I read, not for pleasure, but to escape.

This tyranny of time must not continue. I do not want to continue struggling under a double load of guilt and commitments unmet. While the world outside is forced to slow down by the snow and winds and I am sheltered here at home, I must determine the sources of my joy and make those my priorities. Because it is joy that marks the gifts that I have been given and the best that I have to give to others.

Elizabeth W. Bennefeld has worked as a freelance editor and writer since 1984. She and her husband Al live in Fargo, North Dakota, with their two cocker spaniels, Rascal and Ladd. Their interests include electronics, astronomy, classical music, storm spotting, and public and emergency services work as members of their local amateur radio club. Some of Elizabeth's poetry and short stories can be read at

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