You look over all that the darkness
ripples across. More than has ever
been found comforts you. You open your
eyes in a vault that unlocks as fast
and as far as your thought can run.
A great snug wall goes around everything,
has always been there, will always
remain. It is a good world to be
lost in. It comforts you. It is
(From: “Waking at 3 a.m.,” by William Stafford, in Someday, Maybe, 1973)
It’s dark outside when I awaken each morning, a time when the house is blessed by quiet. As as I walk, neighborhood streets are still, their silence interrupted only by the odd passing car, early risers on their way to work. I cherish these winter mornings, the comfort of darkness shifting into dawn, the shorter days and longer nights, even though I live in a place where the advent of winter is less noticeable than other places I once called “home.”
Yesterday, the first day of December, the temperature i San Diego was a balmy 70 degrees, making the idea of winter seem all the more unreal. As I gaze out my window and across the canyon, the slopes are still green, dotted by succulents, silk oaks, eucalyptus and palm trees, unfazed by the calendar date. There are buds on my bird of paradise plants and a riot of fuchsia blooms on the bougainvillea. Yet winter has announced her coming in change of the light. The angle of the sun has shifted—it will soon be at its lowest arc in the sky—the daylight hours are shorter, and each morning, I darkness greets me when I awaken.
The advent of winter signals not only a change in light and seasons, but a time of celebrations, whatever what our religious heritage or beliefs might be. In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice in our hemisphere occurs later this month, on December 21st, coinciding with the season of our major holiday celebrations.
Our winter celebrations have their roots in the winter solstice, the time when our hemisphere is farthest from the sun. The winter solstice was time our ancestors associated with death and rebirth. As the days grew shorter and the sun began to sink lower into the sky, they feared the sun would completely disappear, leaving them to endure an existence of permanent cold and darkness. Imagine the primitive fear that accompanied those dark winter mornings, a feeling echoed in the first stanza of “Winter Solstice,” a poem by Jody Aliesan.
When you startle awake in the dark morning
heart pounding breathing fast
sitting bolt upright staring into
dark whirlpool black hole
feeling its suction…
The winter solstice was considered a turning point. It marked the return of sun and promise of warmer seasons to come. Even though winter was far from over, the solstice a time of celebration, usually taking place a few days later, the time that many of us now celebrate the Christmas holidays.
Aleisan’s poem echoes that same sense of promise that the ancients associated with the solstice, something I find I also feel in these dark mornings. She reminds us there is comfort found in remembering the beauty of darkness: stars close together, the winter moon rising, or an owl in the distance. A sense of rebirth emerges out of the beauty in darkness.
already light is returning pairs of wings
lift softly off your eyelids one by one
each feathered edge clearer between you
and the pearl veil of day…
(From: Grief Sweat, Broken Moon Press, 1990)
This week, why not use the metaphor of winter, of solstice, to reframe your experience with cancer or another difficult time in your life, a time when hope seemed to fade and you feared little more than darkness. Did your experience a kind of “death” and rebirth? Move from darkness into light? Discover a sense of life renewed?
It’s comforting to look up from this roof
and feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
to recollect that in antiquity the winter solstice fell in Capricorn
and that, in the Orion Nebula,
from swirling gas, new stars are being born.
(“Toward the Winter Solstice” by Timothy Steele, from Toward the Winter Solstice. © Swallow Press, 2005.)