Winter solstice is around the corner, I tell myself as hot tears trickle down my face on our walk home from the grocery store on a too-dark October night.
The next morning, I spend the first 10 minutes upon rolling out of bed to analyze the sunrise, sunset, and hours of daylight on timeanddate.com just to be sure.
I need to have certainty. The sun will eventually warm my body again, these goosebumps are not a permanent part of my attire every day, this darkness will not always feel so invasive and intense.
And indeed, it’s true. Starting on Thursday, December 22nd the sun will set in Bellingham at 4:16pm instead of 4:15pm.
I can make ’til then. I can make ’til then. My mantra for the months where survival feels like enough.
Then, I google winter solstice.
“Winter solstice marks a significant time of year for many cultures. It marked the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun; the gradual waning of daylight hours is reversed and begins to grow again.”
I read that sentence again and again. Actually, I gobble it up, starved for hope already. I feel ashamed for my famished spirit. Regardless, I guzzle it without stopping to take a breath, drink it down like a cure all for any and every ailment.
The gradual waning of daylight hours is reversed and begins to grow again. Now, there is a sacred sentence if I ever read one. I grab it and don’t let it go, take it greedily, mine. I push it into the parts of me too afraid to confront the imminent uncertainty and raging stillness of what lies ahead.
I need the promise of growth and reversal of death if I am going to make it. Of course the rebirth doesn’t happen overnight though, I try to remind myself, not wanting to get too excited.
The march towards sunnier days are miniscule but unmistakable to this weary but attentive traveler in the dark. They unfold gradually minute by minute, day after day, sometimes taking 2 entire days just for the sun to stay up a whole minute later. Even the sun, it seems, is in no rush to sweep away the darkness.
I continue to study the sunrise/sunset chart as if my life depended on it, as if I’m preparing for an epic adventure across continents and oceans, plotting my course before I embark into the unknown. Because I am.
I notice the evenings are the first to stay brighter longer starting on December 22nd. 4:16pm, 4:17, 4:17, 4:18, 4:19, 4:19.
Then on January 7th the morning light joins in the chorus of awakening. 8:02am, 8:01, 8:01, 8:01, 8:00, 8:00. It rises at 7:59am on January 12th.
By the end of January we’ve gained a whole 1 hour and 20 minutes of daylight. Now, here in Washington, it’s worth clarifying these daylight hours are not to be confused with the return of 75 degree days and t-shirts.
We won’t be peeling off our long, fleece-lined jackets or dirty brown boots until around April. We’ll still be pelted with sharp rain and cutting winds and endure our fair share of cloudy days for more months than we think we can handle.
But as I muddle through these long, wet days I carry in my pocket the knowledge that I’ve at least crossed the precipice. I’ve sojourned through the darkness, and I got the seasonal stamp in my passport. I’m on my way towards Spring and Summer.
We must not forget survival is success too. We all have things we must endure, where holding on is the best we can do for today, this week, this month, this year, or this season.
For some of us it could be exhausting hot summers, for others its a monotonous job, a chronic or incurable sickness, a particularly difficult season of parenting or challenging relational issues.
I’m astounded by us as a human race how we can push through the most difficult times and come out alive, limping, but still alive.
The ability to endure, I think, comes from our innate recognition of The Great Evolution. If we study the sunrise/sunset charts closely, if we peer into our personal life, if we look back across history and time, changes are always happening in us and around us. Most of the time without us even realizing it.
Minute by minute, day by day, we’re caught up in a movement of a fearlessly, unfolding Universe.
I pull up the zipper on my jacket covering my entire mouth and tucking in my nose. The tears subside for now, but I know they’ll be back. My shoulders locked up beside my ears.
I’ve assumed my winter posture- the walking cocoon, even as the light lessens and boundaries constrict, my lungs still emit life.
I tell you all this because I know you too are in the midst of your own tense and tumultous and seemingly unbearable time. Perhaps it’s the actual gloom of winter weather beginning to bog you down, freeze you over, or a metaphorical darkness where the unknown looms and the lighting on your path is terrible and your flickering flashlight isn’t doing the trick.
Hibernation is an option of course, holing up in a cave with our covers and comforts and cups of hot chocolate works for a while, but I’d like to offer you a few more practical ways to build your endurance for the inevitable days of bitter cold and lost light:
- Feel the elements and your emotions. Go outside. Turn your face towards the wind. Don’t shun your precious tears. Let the snot and sniffles come and your cheeks turn their own shade of pink.
- Pretend like its all new. Because it is. Pay attention to how a different season pulls back the curtain on what you once assumed to be familiar. There are layers and secrets to your city, your street, your home, your heart, your creativity, and your desires that you didn’t even realize were there until now.
- Celebrate your survival. Be grateful for one thing- life. That’s it. You don’t have to be in love with it. You don’t have to be winning or thriving or feeling like a big success. You can simply be thankful you’re breathing. You’re supported by a compassionate Universe. Sometimes we don’t need the list of a thousand things or even three things uplifting us, we just need to give a nod towards the grounding existence of being human.
- Channel your inner adventurer. Hold space for all life brings your way because without it life would be drab and dull and you would never come to know your own power and strength.