Ally Karpel is the student rabbi of Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Juneau. (Courtesy photo)

Ally Karpel is the student rabbi of Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Juneau. (Courtesy photo)

Living and Growing: Embracing the messiness of transformation — lessons from spring’s break up

Spring has sprung — officially at least. With the arrival of the spring equinox on Tuesday, people around the northern hemisphere began to expect leaves budding on trees, flowers poking through the earth, and in some places, ice cream trucks circling the block. Yet we all know that spring likely will not feel present in Alaska for at least another few weeks.

During this time of liminality — marked symbolically by the shifting of our clocks for daylight savings and the calendrical proclamation of spring via the equinox though still characterized by the remnants of winter’s chill — the juxtaposition between expectation and reality can leave us feeling unmoored, ready for the regrowth of spring, but stuck with the muck and sludge of winter slowly melting away.

I recently learned that in the natural world, this time of transformation is known as “break up.” As an Alaskan tourist website notes of this season: “Alaska’s year really begins with break up — when daylight starts to last past bedtime and temperatures don’t freeze at night. The snow melts and the ground thaws, ushering in an era of puddles and mud and soggy trails. All the gunk and litter buried over the previous six months surfaces.”

As I sat down to compose this column it occurred to me just how apt a metaphor break up is for this season in our own lives as well. Spiritually, spring is often used as a metaphor for our own personal growth. This year, Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities around the world mark a period of transformation through Passover, Easter and Ramadan. However, the hard work of growth and transformation is hardly ever linear. Our own journeys often mirror nature’s ebb and flow of slush and sludge. Amidst the highs and lows, setbacks and breakthroughs, we navigate the murky waters of self-discovery and renewal, much like the thawing landscapes around us. Painful as it may be, we too must confront the messy aspects of ourselves and our lives before we can fully embrace renewal and change

This metaphor was brought into sharper clarity earlier this week as I finished a book by one of my favorite nonfiction authors, Rebecca Solnit. In the book, entitled “A Field Guide to Getting Lost,” Solnit writes of the ways in which sometimes the earliest forms of transformation mimic deterioration.

“Take, for example, a butterfly,” Solnit writes. “Cut a chrysalis open and you will find a rotting caterpillar. You will never find that mythical creation, half caterpillar half butterfly. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.”

As we emerge from the cold, rain and solitude of winter, it is natural to anticipate shedding the layers of stagnation and embracing the warmth of growth. Yet as we navigate this season of transition, let us remember that true transformation is not always glamorous or easy. It requires that we confront our own decay, to embrace the messy and uncertain aspects of ourselves and our lives. But it is through this process that we emerge stronger, wiser, and more fully ourselves.

So, as we welcome the arrival of spring and all its promises of new beginnings, let us also embrace the messiness of transformation, honoring the decay that precedes growth and finding strength in the knowledge that, like the butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, we too can find beauty and grace in the midst of change.

• Ally Karpel (she/her) is the student rabbi of Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Juneau. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Saturday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.

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