by Holly LeMaster

In the Northern Hemisphere of Planet Earth, at 10:02 Greenwich Mean Time on December 21, we mark the Winter Solstice. It’s the shortest day of the astronomical year with the least amount of daylight and longest period of darkness. We were warned that this would be a long, dark winter and, indeed, here we find ourselves. In dark times–literally and, in many ways, metaphorically–as we persist together and apart in our own unique ways through the winter of a global pandemic. Many have experienced illness and death in our inner circles. And everyone has experienced, in some way, the loss of connection, gathering, fellowship, laughter, hugs–the “normal” day-to-day things we used to take for granted. There is a collective sense of sadness and grief that we don’t have to try very hard to tap into.

While essential workers and frontline healthcare providers are still courageously showing up in the world day after day in service to the rest of us (thank you–seriously), many remain in relative seclusion, staying home as much as possible to avoid catching or spreading the virus. And since we are mammals, after all, that might not be such a bad thing. Our animal instincts tell us to hunker down and sleep–that spring will arrive soon enough. So what if we allowed ourselves to get out of resistance and into acceptance? Maybe it’s time to surrender to the call of the long nights, to turn off Netflix, stop doomscrolling, and go inside to reflect, to deeply rest.

Some of us haven’t been able to rally much holiday spirit this year. And what if that’s perfectly okay? Instead of hustling with the busy-ness and obligation of shopping and cooking and decorating and entertaining, what if, instead, we quietly and reverently turned our attention to the deeper sacred meaning of the holidays that we celebrate? We can choose to be transformed by intentionally noticing and cherishing the ordinary, significant things that open our hearts: the sound of the kids laughing in the next room, the taste of the first sip of coffee in the morning, the lyrics of a favorite song, the warmth of the fire, the voice of a loved one–if even only through the phone. 

In honoring the gifts that darkness can bring, we find light. There’s that deep kind of existential joy that doesn’t depend on things going according to our plans. It’s always there, underneath, waiting for us to acknowledge it. Coexisting even, sometimes, with restlessness and despair.

Today, as I write this blog, the first doses of vaccine against covid-19 are being administered to Americans. Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as they say. 

The promise of the Winter Solstice is that, even in the midst of our darkest days, the light is certain to return. Even the trials and tribulations of 2020 cannot alter this reality. As surely as in every other year, the earth will slowly turn her Northern Hemisphere once again toward the light. After December 21, each day will get just a little bit longer, a little bit brighter. The natural world reminds us what is real and what is true: the light will return again. This, too, shall pass.