The winter solstice - the shortest day and longest night of the year - always has fascinated me.
For much of our species' time on Earth, humans feared that the days would shorten until the sun simply vanished, leaving us to dwell in a cold, dark world of naked trees and dormant crops.
In 2020, the pending arrival of the year's longest night seems to be coinciding with what doctors and politicians are calling a "dark winter" of disease, with coronavirus cases and COVID deaths mounting exponentially, surpassing even the worst expectations.
Has "normal" life vanished forever?
Actually, the light is right around the corner. Vaccinations have just begun, bringing hope for health and normality in the future.
But as with the sunny days of summer, it will take some time for our societal well-being to truly return. The day after the solstice, after all, is still the second-darkest day of the year. We still have to get through a good many more dark days.
So how will we cope? What do we humans do, when the darkness is closing in? When resources grow scarce? When anxiety looms?
The traditions of this season can give us a few ideas. Looking at these traditions, it's obvious that we need to tap into our imagination, find beauty in our surroundings, seek connection and discover our own resourcefulness.
Human imagination has given us so much art, imagery, story and music for this season. In order to survive a "dark winter," it's important to keep imagination alive: read books, create things, listen to music you love, find new music, seek out visual art.
Find beauty in your surroundings - it does not cost anything to stop to look at the sunset or appreciate how the stars shine brighter when the sky is darker. I love that during this time of year, we celebrate the tree that stays green through the dark and cold of winter. Find those things around you that are "staying green" - that are still thriving.
Foster your personal environment in the small ways that you can - surround yourself with images and objects that feel hopeful, lively and healthy. Make order for yourself; organize something small and see how it feels. Clean your living space - it's amazing how much that can help.
Remember that one does not plow the field in the dead of winter. So don't waste time agonizing over opportunities that are not currently available, work that is not possible, or activities that can't happen right now. Do what you can do, within the current limitations. Look for the subtle opportunities that offer themselves, even if they seem small or irrelevant to your larger goals. Be open to those long-dormant parts of yourself that might be awakened by trying something different.
And stay connected, But find safe ways to connect with your own family and friends -- via phone, via Zoom, via old-fashioned letter-writing. And stay connected with your community, where others may be suffering acutely. Are you in a position to help another person in need? Consider calling that distant friend who is alone. Or bringing food to someone. Or participating in a charitable effort to help people with basic needs like food and clothing.
In the coming months, it will be very important for every human being on the planet to behave responsibly, to stop a virus that spreads like wildfire and easily overwhelms our health resources. So wear your mask everywhere. Distance. Limit your social gatherings. Don't spread this disease to grocery store workers, caretakers, or your own friends and relatives. Be a responsible citizen in this fight, so we can truly find a return to the light.
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