The shortest day of the year is upon us yet again, unless of course you are in the southern hemisphere, in which case it would be the longest day of the year, physics being what it is. I always get dark and thoughtful on the solstice and there’s plenty of time and space to do it, since the sun is going to whizz by briefly, way down there in the south, and then it will set, and then it will be dark. For a very long time. Until it is light again.
There’s a reason so many cultures found the solstices and equinoxes important. Beyond simply marking the calendar, beyond the shifts in season so important for farmers, there’s something a bit mysterious about them. I have the benefit of knowing what causes varying day lengths, something early societies didn’t really know, and even I find the longest night a little bit frightening. There’s a part of me that wonders if it will ever actually end and the sun will rise again.
Historically, the festival of light has been held on or around the solstice in many cultures. A way of whistling in the dark, as it were, keeping the longest night at bay by resolutely refusing to snuff the candles and shut off the lights. Or maybe a way of reminding the sun what to do in the morning. I can never decide. Superstitiously, I burn a candle on the solstice and I am reassured by it when I wake up in the night and see the flame lengthening and shortening, drifting in the draft and sometimes guttering abruptly, almost winking out, so low it’s almost gone, before flaring back up again with a fresh burst of energy.
While the Western New Year doesn’t fall for 10 more days and other New Years are at even more disparate times, the solstice always feels kind of like the beginning of my year, the time I sit and take stock. And this year has been, in a lot of ways, not very enjoyable. I am not terribly sad to be shut of it, to snuff the candle out in the morning at the first sign of the sun creeping resolutely over the trees so I can face east and begin it all again.
I felt a lot like the sun this year. I started edging up over the horizon but I kept being battered and pushed back, and eventually I sank back down again, down, down, down, almost below the horizon entirely, just skimming along the surface of the barely visible south, small and red and kind of angry. It’s been a tiring year. It felt, at parts, like a year without end. I started to feel like I was trapped in it.
I don’t talk about my personal life here as much as I used to, for a variety of reasons, but I think it’s pretty evident that it has been a really frustrating year, in a lot of ways, and a really sad year. I am not much one for rampant displays of emotion, but it creeps out in my writing whether I like it or not and I can see that, so I suspect you have too. (I always think that we are our own worst editors, becoming so functionally disconnected from what we write that we don’t even really see it any more, and thus, when I notice things, I tend to assume that they are glaringly obvious to other people.)
This year hasn’t been relentless misery, of course. I moved house, and I really love my new house. I met some excellent people whom I like a lot and am glad to be able to interact with and consider friends. I did some pretty cool things. Some things happened that I didn’t expect that gave me some hope for humanity. Those bright spots in my year, and the people behind them, meant a lot to me—mean a lot to me, really, more than I can adequately express because, again, I am not much one for displays of emotion, myself.
I’ve lost a lot in the last few years. Each year I think that I will reach the nadir and things will get better, I creep up with my cheery face on and my hopes flying high, and each year I get beaten down again and end up drifting just above the abyss, well aware that one false step and I will fall and I will not be able to recover. Each year, I pledge that the next year will be better, and it is, in some ways, but it isn’t, in others, and I have come to realise that this is what I can expect from life. This is living. Living is hauling my ass up over the horizon every damn morning whether I like it or not, and dealing with whatever gets flung at me, and going from there. Hoping that next sunrise, things will be different.
Because, sometimes, they are.