There’s a part of me that begins to carry on a concerned conversation in September every year discussing whether or not I will be able to survive the coming darkness. For those of you who don’t have the honest pleasure of living above the 45th parallel north (that’s Latitude…) or below the southern one — with the dramatic change of the seasons comes an equally dramatic shift in the amount of light we get to see on any given day. I’m sure even where you live, you have noticed the days feeling longer in Summer and shorter in Winter, right? Well, where we live the difference between the languid, semi-eternal Summer day and the brief blimp of sunlight that appears already on it’s way down when it rises on a Winter day, is practically a whole other day every 24 hours. It’s light from 5 in the morning to 11 at night in the Summer, and barely from 8 to 5 in the Winter. So by the time we get to the “shortest” day of the year it feels like it’s really almost all night — especially in Missoula where every year I’ve been here (but the last two!) we have been socked-in under a heavy inversion blocking out the majority of every day’s sunlight for most of the Winter.
So it can feel a bit daunting when we get to September and the sky starts wearing a wooly white beard totally obscuring its blue face for days on end, and the sun begins to sleep later and go to bed earlier each day. I begin to wonder what I’ll do with so much more night — and more importantly with so much less light — in the coming months (aannnnd months…). But when I make it to the Winter Solstice, I begin to breathe a little easier — almost instantly — I begin to have a little more anticipation, a little more energy, a little more faith, and a little more enjoyment — including more enjoyment of the night itself.
I got stuck in a long term relationship with the night when I was younger. And though we still maintain a strong affinity for one another, I have come to appreciate the light and it’s way of loving me far more in recent years — probably because I’ve been through 15 Winters in Missoula. I know that by February, if I’m not diligent about getting all the light I can, that I just might suffer the dreaded “Seasonal Affective Disorder(!)” and lose most of the month to relentless doldrums. It turns out, living up here in the dark dark Winter, with only 8 hours of light shining each day, and most of it filtered through cloud, the human body starts to — well, hibernate. And it’ll just keep going deeper and deeper into hibernation until late Spring, if one doesn’t manage one’s relationship to some form of beneficial light. So, I’ve gotten better and better at making sure to get myself into the daylight as much and as often as I am able in the Winter. And I feel less like I can enjoy the night — because in this season there is actually the very real danger of being swallowed by it.
But when we make it to the longest night, and we light our candle(s), and we shine our own light into the darkness, and we welcome the return of the sun, and I know the light is coming back to and through us — then I can fully enjoy the splendor of the night, too. And even though it’s the “beginning” of Winter, and there’s still a couple months of mostly dark days ahead, I rest easy in the ethereal awareness of the gestating Spring, and I begin to breathe deeper and more sound, and I can again look forward (instead of averting my gaze) and slowly, slowly begin to unfold once more into the light. I’ve made it. The sun is turning it’s head to begin it’s return.
And with the promise of 16 hour days rising ahead of me, I lean into the night and give thanks for it’s dark embrace. I give thanks for the inspiration of the void, the possibility, the latent magical potential. The universe was created from this same night — the infinite given light and form out of and because of the shapeless shadow of it’s original Winter Solstice. Like the eternal night from which we are born and to which we return — each year gives us the longest night to die into and be born from again. And I am so thankful for it.
Blesséd Winter Solstice, Northern Hemisphere — the longest night is come. And an envious Blesséd Summer Solstice to all of you waaaay down South — thanks for holding the light for us.