Light Is Returning
It’s the darkest time of year in the darkest year in memory, for many of us. Death, suffering, fear, isolation, cruelty, oppression, corruption, destruction, mendacity, malice. It all feels overwhelming. How can we trust light will return?
At the moment of Winter Solstice, the balance of light and darkness shifts almost imperceptibly. The days begin to lengthen a few seconds at a time. The word “solstice” comes from two Latin words meaning “sun stopped.” If you plot length of day on a graph over time, what emerges is a curved line called a sine wave. This shape occurs often in nature, in ocean waves, sound waves, light waves. At the wave’s two extremes, Summer and Winter Solstice, the amount of change in length of day is tiny, much smaller than in the middle of the wave, at the Equinoxes. Like a swinging pendulum, change in length of day slows down as it switches direction.
At Solstice, in nature, life’s speed stalls. Plants don’t grow much. Each dark, wet, cold day seems like the last. When we consider the huge challenges we’ve all faced to different degrees and the stagnant rate of positive change, it’s easy to feel hopeless. If we do, we’re not alone. The Seattle Times reported that a survey done in mid-November showed a higher rate of symptoms of depression – “feeling down, depressed, or hopeless” – in Seattle than in other major metropolitan areas in the US.
As the late, beloved Charlie Murphy wrote in his song “Light Is Returning”:[i]
Light is returning, even though this is the darkest hour
No one can hold back the dawn
Let’s keep it burning, let’s keep the light of hope alive
Make safe our journey through the storm
In just over two weeks, Georgia voters have a chance to elect two Democratic senators and flip control of the Senate to Democrats. This would clear the way for progressive changes that Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans have blocked. In one month, a new President and Vice-President will be sworn in. Their administration will focus on ethical and functional government and on racial, social, economic, and environmental justice to a much greater degree than the current one. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two vaccines that are highly effective in protecting against COVID, and these vaccines are being distributed right now to people at highest risk.
As we wait to feel the impacts of these hopeful developments, how can we keep from falling into despair, given all we have lost?
Sometimes the best place to look for light is deep in the dark. Underground, spring bulbs prepare to sprout. I can already see tiny, swordlike green leaves pushing through the soil’s surface. Trees whose above-ground growth is dormant in cold weather find opportunities to expand their networks of roots, getting ready for the spring bud break.
Last night, I dreamed:
Something needs to shift underground, beneath a grove of trees. The shift will nourish the trees and also prevent conflict or war. I am trying to figure out what system, what mechanism, to use to help make the shift.
What needs to shift in our bodies and lives so that we can strengthen our roots, lean toward light, and prepare for more abundant growth in freer, healthier times? This week, I am attending to basics: eating and sleeping well, moving my body in ways that strengthen me, connecting with family, friends, and nature. Doing something that brings me joy every day, even if it’s five minutes looking at photos of my far-away granddaughter. Making plans for trips we can take when travel is safer. Making phone calls to voters in Georgia to help them navigate voter suppression and have their votes count.
For me, the shift from depression to delight can hinge on the smallest change in thinking and behavior. Earlier this week, a couple of days before that Seattle Times story came out, I hit an emotional wall, then realized that if I took a walk every day or worked in the garden when it wasn’t pouring rain, I felt better. There is so much I can’t control, so I focus on what I can. When we each do what we can to make change, it adds up. Collectively, we told Donald Trump, “You’re fired!” (Even if he can’t admit it yet.) Now it’s time to dream up the world we want, one that feeds life and manages conflict in a more constructive way.
May your dreams light up these long nights.
[i] © Charlie Murphy, recorded on the album “Canticles of Light,” by Charlie Murphy, Jami Sieber and the Total Experience Choir (Out Front Music, P.O. Box 12188, Seattle, WA 98102)