I gingerly sat on my cold leather seat, tensely awaiting my van to warm up on a frigid winter day recently. As I drove down my street, I begrudgingly looked out my passenger-side window and noticed my neighbour braving the -20 weather.
To my amazement, Bill, at 101-years-old was slowly trudging through the snowy sidewalk with his walker underhand. I was completely awestruck!
Walking to the corner store is, in fact, Bill’s ordinary extraordinary regular routine. And I’ll admit my grumbly, inner monologue screeched to a halt; I felt sheepish watching him from the comfort of my van.
Bill’s example is exactly what Dr. Wojciech Brzezinski orders to maintain winter wellness and beat the winter blues. This is a topic near to my heart, as I find that these shorter, cold days challenge my own mental health.
In a phone conversation with the newly retired physician, we covered topics ranging from growing up in a convent with his family in Communist Poland, his time as a junior national pairs figure skating champion, meeting his wife in medical school and then fleeing Communist Poland as a political refugee in the 1980s.
We talked about how Brzezinski landed in Canada 39 years ago (his wife followed two years later) and spent the next seven years completing his residency specializing in surgery in Edmonton. Subsequently, he practiced medicine for 10 years in Fort McMurray and 15 years in Medicine Hat before settling in Canmore. He and his wife have raised two sons and delight in their three grandchildren. They are faithful Our Lady of the Rockies Shrine parishioners and both love keeping active with sports.
Skiing down a mountain, or going for a swim brings Dr. Brzezinski joy, especially in the bleak winter months following Christmas.
Drawing on his professional training and life experience facing adversity, he shared his three-part prescription with me for maintaining health of body, mind and soul this winter.
And for those who can’t get outside Fr. Siray suggests choosing a book or spiritual reading that is upbeat.
“This time of year, because it’s a harder time, choose something to read that’s going to lift you up – a light-hearted novel or a spiritual book that isn’t quite so heavy; I think those can be a good remedy,” said Siray.
Sunlight in Canmore can be limited in the winter because the mountain peaks block the light. During the winter, Fr. Siray prays in the darkness of the morning and evening and lights candles to make those prayer times special.
“You are always looking for those light sources; you are hungry for light throughout the day. Lighting a candle helps me to pray. It fits for this time of year. It beats some of the darkness all around,” Siray said.
At the end of our conversation Fr. Siray wanted to reassure me and our readers that “the light and warmth will return. That sense of expectation and longing for these things – I think there is something good in that too.”
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers