Comfort in the darkest season

Light and darkness is a theme that runs through my writing and, more importantly, through my life.  I’ve written at great length about how important the solstice is to me.  This is particularly true of the winter solstice, which is the holiest day of the year for me.  Part of this is from our long family tradition of celebrating on December 21st with a black tie party that, towards midnight, involves a ceremony to mark the return of the sun.  More, though, the day is sacred because it’s the closest I come to communion with the earth’s actual turning, with the essential, primal rhythms of day and night, light and dark, to which our lives thrum.

I don’t think it’s merely because I chose light as my word of 2012 that these are themes to which I’ve returned with even more regularity and zeal this year.  I am often moved to tears by the quality of light in nature, and the metaphor of dark and light has also been one to which I am consistently drawn. Light and darkness.  Holiness and grace.  Radiance and shadow.  We keep on turning, and the shadows keep dancing, the light flickering.  All I can do is keep watching.

I used to dread the coming of the dark.  And in many ways, I still do: the shift of the world towards fall fills me with an inchoate but undeniable sorrow.  Fall and early winter is a season of endings, there is no question about that.  But in the last several years I’ve been more comfortable with the deep dark of December.  I still find January and February long and dreary, but December no longer depresses me.  I suspect that this change has to do with my profound embrace of darkness in all its forms.  It took me many years to figure out a truth I know now is unassailably true: without the darkness the light is meaningless.  When I write it like that it feels so trite, so cliched, but the truth is this learning has undeniably changed the way I exist in the world.

As the planet turns towards the darkest months I start to notice nests in the trees’ bare branches and the sky turns an almost unbearably crystalline blue.  I’m sure it’s no accident that Sunday, the first day after we fall back and enter the season of the shortest days, the light had a clarity that made my heart ache.  I sat on a bench at the park, listening to my children laugh on the swings, and my eyes were drawn up, up, up to the boundless blue.  I can’t put words around the quality of that morning’s light, but it nudged something free in me, something jagged and sad but also deeply, profoundly glad.

That afternoon, as I sensed the day drawing itself towards dusk, I kept hearing in my head it is the evening of the day.  As Tears Go By floated through my thoughts, over and over again.  It is the evening of the year, it is the season of gloaming, and we plunge again towards darkness.  But my God, how unspeakably, outrageously beautiful is the light, even in this dark month.  For the first time in my life I see that that those two facts are not coincidence, but profoundly interfused.

My relatively new comfort with the year’s darkest days gives me a deep sense of optimism.  I understand, finally, that my life’s richest meaning exists in the shadows on the border between light and dark.  Maybe, also, I have begun to trust on a cellular level that the world will always turn back towards the light.

The photograph is of dusk on December 21, 2011, on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  It felt meaningful that we landed in Israel on the solstice, and emerged from the airport to this startlingly beautiful sunset.  As the children slept on either side of me in the back of the taxi, I frantically took pictures out the window with my iPhone, wiping away tears so that I could see.  We landed in the holy land on my holiest day, and the sky certainly cooperated to mark the occasion.

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  1. Posted November 8, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Very thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing.
    I recently heard someone speak about the stars and how they are
    always there shining just as bright, but are drowned out by the “noise” and light of the day. It takes darkness to appreciate the stars, or even to notice them at all.

  2. Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    This is beautiful. Reminds me a lot of the sentiment behind Shadowlands. I also always love the word “gloaming.” Have you ever read that short story “In the Gloaming?” Completely unrelated and I realize my comments are all over the place, but this piece of yours is so complex and thought-provoking and beautiful that my brain is overloaded in a dozen different directions. Wow.

  3. Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I love this post. All of it. I find I’m paying a lot more attention to the light since moving up north, and for some reason, this year, I’m not dreading the dark quite as much. Beautiful words. xo

  4. Isabelle
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I used to dread the turn towards darkness too. I would feel panicked to be trapped on the wrong hemisphere of our tilting planet. Two things that came with motherhood changed this for me. One, getting outside (pun intended) of a corporate job so that I have more exposure to the little light available these months and two, deep appreciation for the extra rest of these darker months (light sensitive child). I now find myself looking forward to the balance of the light and dark at the equinoxes and finding both joys and challenges in the extremes of the solstices.

  5. Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Just beautiful. I agree with every sentence. So lovely. xx

  6. Posted November 8, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    “I understand, finally, that my life’s richest meaning exists in the shadows on the border between light and dark.”

    You said what I have long felt so beautifully. Thank you for this.

  7. Posted November 8, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I love this post, Lindsey. So much wholeness in this joining – in this turning what can feel like competing things into necessary partners. Gorgeous.

    And your words brought back to mind the beautiful ones of Christine Valtner Painter here – a woman who loves the darkest season most of all:

  8. Posted November 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Lovely. And such truth, Lindsey, thank you. It’s the darkest times that allow us to see the light so clearly and to appreciate both is to live fully, no?


  9. Posted November 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely beautiful. I share your reticence and trouble with January and February gloom but have embraced December, probably because my memories of December evenings growing up were positive but the start of a new year isn’t always…

  10. Posted November 8, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Have read this post three or four times throughout the day, each time finding more depth and beauty in your words. There is a kind of soul settling, I think, as we realize that life isn’t dark or light but both, and that we humans awaken by learning to both be at ease in the darkness and to step into the light. You are leading the way. xo

  11. Posted November 8, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    My word, this is stunning. And thoughtful. And reflective.

    {Just the way I like my reading to be!}

    I love that you chose light as your word. I also love how enhanced the meaning is when juxtaposed to dark.

    You are a wise one, friend.

    {Love this, so much!}

  12. Amy
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    I’ve been thinking about this all day. Especially: “Maybe, also, I have begun to trust on a cellular level that the world will always turn back towards the light.” Thanks for putting it so beautifully. I struggle with this dark vs light (on so many levels) and am trying to think of (as a start) practical ways to get through the darkness (literal — it’s so dark now when I leave the office!) each day.

  13. Posted November 9, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Ok wow– you are getting more and more introspective and beautiful in your language with every post.

    This post sort of reminds me in concept (in a roundabout way) of The Age of Miracles. Have you read it?

    And it TOTALLY unrelated news, but will save me a tweet or email, I had a chance to go to Zara while out of town. Bought the best short “leather” jacket for $80. Amazing.

  14. Posted November 10, 2012 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    “It took me many years to figure out a truth I know now is unassailably true for me: without the darkness the light is meaningless. When I write it like that it feels so trite, so cliched, but the truth is this learning has undeniably changed the way I exist in the world.”

    This whole piece is so infused with beauty, Lindsey, but your words above strike me deeply and so true. Yes, this is that which makes meaning out of life.

    Thank you for sharing.

  15. Posted November 12, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    This is beautiful! I wish I could embrace the darkness more fully. I just despise winter though and have realized I can never live in a cold and dark climate. Perhaps my brain is just a bit too close to despair and winter completely sends me over the edge:) Oh well, at least there is something I can do about it!!!

  16. Posted November 16, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    So beautiful your writing…I too have that same feeling on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I feel profound joy and sadness on that day. Last year was the first time in years that I had complete bliss. I am hoping to be able to appreciate the sadness as I do my joy next Friday as my hubby and I decorate our Christmas tree. Thank you, love, for those beautiful words.

  17. Posted December 31, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I missed this post the first time around. So glad you do your recaps so I can catch up. For myself, I always welcome the turn to darkness (not sure what that says about me, other than I like the coziness it instills as we turn also toward hearth and home and domesticity). Of course, I grow weary of it soon enough.

  18. Posted December 31, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    This year, for the first time, I feel myself turning toward this season. Turning into it. Perhaps it is a stage of life thing, but I’m finding comfort in winter that I’ve never experienced before. It feels steady. Deep. The silence feels like space. And yes, the light has a quality that resonates in ways summer light never can.

    It is easy to love summer. But winter love feels more solid under my feet.

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