My friends of winter bring true warmth

Tad Monroe is one of six reader columnist for The Tacoma News Tribune.
Tad Monroe is one of six reader columnist for The Tacoma News Tribune.

I moved to Tacoma in 1993 to attend college. I’ve lived here ever since, minus a two-year stint in Seattle.

Like many first-year college students, the transition was tough, and my first several years in Tacoma had many dark days. But by the time I graduated, Tacoma had settled in me like a newly poured foundation.

I’ve had life transitions that would have made it easier to move away from this gritty city and start fresh. I’ve had good job offers that would have taken me to Atlanta, Washington D.C., or San Francisco.

I’ve had countless people come and visit in the dead of winter and ask how I survive the dark and dreary weather. My answer is always the same. It’s all those “winter friends.”

Long before HBO’s “Game of Thrones” made the words “winter is coming” part of the popular vernacular, the series’ author George R.R. Martin’s grandmother told him: “Summer friends will melt away like summer snows, but winter friends are friends forever.”

In a few weeks the winter solstice will be upon us. For centuries, communities all over the world have found cultural and spiritual significance in the longest night of the year.

In ancient times, winter was known as “the famine months.” Winter solstice, also known as the midwinter festival, Yule or Yalda night, would be the last feast celebration before the depths of winter set in.

There is a counterintuitive nature to the observances associated with the solstice. It is a time of feasting, rebirth and hope during the darkest and most barren months, a time when you gather with your community and dare to practice radical hope at the threshold of scarcity.

For the last 15 years, on the eve of the solstice or just after it, I have made my annual pilgrimage to a Benedictine monastery with the same friends.

The abbey is a tangible expression of the vow of stability that monks make. And in a way, Tacoma has been my abbey, though one of a very different sort.

Over the years I’ve had people come to me for my opinion on them moving. All I can offer are the values and perspective that have guided my own decisions.

I tell them place matters. And relationships? Well, they’re the most important things in life.

Above making more money or career advancement, there is nothing better than really being known, and there is something extremely valuable about not being able to hide – about being in a place where you can’t recreate yourself without having to reckon with your past.

Having deep roots means being accountable to your community. Practicing forgiveness is not an abstract feat, but a practical one.

Still, the old saying that a “prophet has no honor except in her or his own town” is real, and sometimes those who “know” us best have the hardest time allowing us to grow beyond the boxes they put us in. That is the work we owe those we know most intimately.

I understand restlessness and the desire to find something new as much as anyone. I am prone to wander. But it is exactly that propensity that draws me back to being rooted.

Soon my “winter friends” and I will set out for our pilgrimage where, in the darkness and silence of winter, we will be still and reflect.

In the evenings over wine and whiskey, we will revisit our own vows to one another and express love and gratitude. We will attempt to dive deeper into the trusting space we’ve carved out these many years, and try to be vulnerable enough to have conversations that matter.

I have not lived my own “vow of stability” perfectly. Some friendships have faded as they must; summer friends melted with the summer snow. But Tacoma will always be my “winter place,” which makes the days of summer all the more sweet.

Tad Monroe of Tacoma is a consultant, storyteller and creative entrepreneur. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Reach him by email at 253tad@gmail.com