I’m writing this on December 21st, the Winter Solstice. Within a fairly short time, the sun will sink below the Olympic Mountains to the west and give way to a darkness that will last longer than any other night of the year. Before leaving work for home, darkness will already have full reign and won’t let go until hours after the alarm has gone off tomorrow morning.
For me, the dread of these long nights begins in summer. Even in the midst of those spacious days of sunlight and a sunset that lingers until long after exhausted little ones have gone to bed, this night of darkness taps me on the shoulder and whispers, “These days are ending.” By September, clinking gin and tonics on a backyard deck with family and friends rings with melancholy. I know the struggle to endure these dark nights is coming. Now they are here and the enduring seems eternal.
The one comfort for me this year is that far more people than usual seem to have joined me in an awareness of how dark it really is. I live in a world generally privileged and comfortable. Most of those around me can simply buy more lamps for their home, add a floodlight to the backyard (having a backyard to be able to add a floodlight to), or set a lightbox on their desk to force the morning to begin. This year, however, the darkness has seeped through the weather stripping, entered into our lives through our smart phones, laptops and televisions. This long night has overwhelmed most of our usual defenses.
As a veteran of these battles with the dark, let me offer a word of hope to those new to this experience. Just as the voice of night whispers in the long days of summer, so too the voice of light whispers in this dark, “These days will pass.” For another few spaces on the calendar, the dark will hold its balance in triumph. But then, the darkness will slip and begin giving way to daylight. It can take a while before we notice. But daylight will begin pushing back against both fronts of the night and make more space for the sun. Daylight hours will begin to stretch and hold more sway.
As a pastor in a congregation dedicated to following Christ, all the symbolism of Christmas speaks to me of this ultimate truth: “The people wandering in the dark have seen a great light. On those living in the land of darkness a light has dawned.” Yet, for all of us, no matter what our faith or creed, our years of living in this beautiful, scary, weary, wonderful world have shown us, year after year: The darkness will not last. The sun also rises.
So please hold on. And hold fast to one another. Tonight make a special effort to be with someone you love, or at least reconnect with someone. Me and a handful of the folks from the congregation will be gathering at our local hangout, Targy’s, to raise a glass to better days on the horizon. Tonight darkness reigns, but a widening light begins to shine even so.