Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Turning the Corner

or Celebrating Light

Every winter solstice, one of my dearest friends in Vermont happily points out that "We've turned the corner!"  Her blitheness used to drive me crazy when I lived there.  The sub-zero Fahrenheit temperatures of January and February were still ahead of us, and even worse, the cruel tease known as "March," not to mention the disgusting weeks of mud season, when knee-high boots are sucked off your feet to disappear forever in the muck and mire.  To be rejoicing that the days are each growing one minute (oh, wow, one whole minute!) longer seemed to be missing the point of the three months of winter and their 129,600 minutes yet to come.

And yet, truth be told, we have turned a corner, away from darkness toward ever-increasing light.  Spring is, in fact, if we are to be completely technical about it and ignore such incidental phenomena as snow, ice, and frigid temperatures, on its way.  Here in New Mexico, as in much of the West, the coldest months of the year are December and January; the solstice really does mark "midwinter."  We're at the nadir of this very shallow valley and beginning to saunter out again.  Now that I'm here and not dreading any actual, you know, weather, I can appreciate my friend's point of view a little better.

I was thinking about that yesterday morning, the first day of winter, as the combination of sunrise, unseasonable warmth, and a hot cup of tea beckoned me outside.   I was taking photograph after photograph of the painterly clouds and thinking of the view as a sunrise (which it was), all the while wondering what distinguished it from a sunset, other than the whole obvious east/west factor.  Visually? perhaps nothing.  Experientially? almost everything:  the sense of vibrancy rather than of sleep, the pull toward action, the glad shout of life—

And rather than being intrinsic to the sunrise, almost all of that experiential difference comes from inside our own heads. 

When I first became ill, I slept between 12 and 14 hours a day, at the minimum. I would sleep through two alarms, and wake feeling as though I had never slept at all. After several months of that, I realized how much hope comes from the idea that "it will all look better in the morning"—how deep the belief in dawn, in the solstice, in turning points, in improvement, runs. When you wake in the morning feeling worse than you did the night before, and realize that that's just the way things are going to be from this time forward, it's not only physically wrong, it's counter to everything you know in your gut about the way the world "should" work.

At some point you realize that turning points don't just happen.  Solstice isn't meaningful all by itself; the days may grow longer, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they will become any better.  A sunrise may suggest an awakening to life, but that doesn't mean the awakening will occur.  You have to make those moments pivotal.  You choose to see the dawn as a time of possibility, to celebrate the growth of light rather than to bemoan the cold of winter, to live your values rather than to harp on your losses.  Hope is something you decide on, not something that automatically waltzes your way with the sunrise or the solstice.

This is the time of year for celebrations of light. As a more-or-less Friend, a Quaker, with deep Protestant roots, I celebrate the birth of the Christ child—the Light come among us.  To those of you who also celebrate Christmas, I offer best wishes for a very merry one!  To those who do not, I warmly extend my hands in a wish for peace on earth and good will toward all.

May God bless us, every one.


  1. It took me awhile after becoming ill to be able to consider each new day as a reset, especially since the beginning of my days are half-over for everyone else (I still have times where I must sleep 12 hours or even more). At first, it all just seemed one endless bad dream. And then I eventually realized that even though I don't usually get do-overs in the health sense, I do get them in the emotional and spiritual sense.

    I almost never get to see a sunrise in person, so I really appreciate your photos. Maybe I should start thinking of sunsets as my daily turning point?

  2. Beautiful beautiful photos. And beautiful words. Stacy, there are wonderful books in you; thoughtful and helpful and joyously laced with insight.

    You owe them to us all, so get to work.


  3. Peace and happiness - now and in the days to come...


  4. klbrowser--Sunrise, sunset--it's all in your head, right? :) I like that idea of each new day as a spiritual do-over.

    Greg--as always, thank you. I don't know that I've every seen such an amazing sunrise before, and that's saying something. Thank you also for that beautiful vote of confidence. If I every discover a book lurking inside you will be among the first to know, but please don't hold your breath...

    Mark, thank you. Blessings and peace to you and yours as well.

  5. Beautiful Stacy. I needed to hear this tonight and Merry Christmas!

    Jan Lyn