For the past several days, I’ve been struggling to write. It’s not just about cobbling together a blog post appropriate for the season; it’s a malaise that has also rendered my precious morning writing time a struggle of inspiration and motivation. I am following my own advice: keeping my routine of writing each morning, but more often than not, my pages are filled with thoughts that go nowhere and brief, unrelated paragraphs.
Now, at a time when this blog post might be oriented to a more “seasonal” theme related to the holiday season, I don’t feel anything close to the holiday spirit as I usually do. There seems to be less in the world to celebrate with the very present impact of climate change, a worldwide fourth wave triggered by the relentless spread of the Omicron variant, and daily, news of political unrest, poverty, hardship, and suffering, overshadowing themes of “comfort and joy” in this usual holiday season. I have, as many have, been infected by a kind of spiritual malaise: call it “pandemic fatigue,” whether a constant low level anxiety or a persistent sense of languishing. Whatever we call it, it’s nigh impossible to summon up a sense of genuine holiday cheer. Rather, I can’t shake the undercurrent of more primitive fear lurking somewhere in the shadows, one that whispers that things will never be as they once were.
|“Winter Solstice,” a poem by Jody Aliesan, captures those feelings in the first stanza:|
when you startle awake in the dark morning
heart pounding breathing fast
sitting bolt upright staring into
dark whirlpool black hole
feeling its suction… (In: Grief Sweat, 1990)
This morning I remembered that the winter solstice occurs in the Northern Hemisphere on Tuesday morning, December 21st. It’s the day when hours of daylight are the shortest and the nighttime longest, marking marks the start of the astronomical winter. It is after the solstice that our days grow longer and our nights shorter, as we gradually move toward spring. According to the historians, our traditional December holiday celebrations had their beginnings in the winter solstice, as early as the latter part of the Stone Age, somewhere around 10,200 B.C.
For our ancient ancestors, the winter solstice was also associated with the concept of death and rebirth. The weather grew cold, the growing season had ended, and stores of food grew scarce as the life-giving sun sank lower in the sky. They feared the sun might disappear completely, leaving them to suffer in bitter cold and permanent darkness. But the winter solstice marked the gradual return of the sun, and its growing strength as it rose each day in the morning sky. Winter may have been far from over, but because it signaled the return of warmer seasons and new life, the solstice was a time for celebration.
As this year’s solstice approaches, we are again facing restrictions: the Omicron variant is spreading everywhere at a pace far outstripping the previous waves of the pandemic, throwing our everyday lives into question again: what life will be like when we have gained the upper hand on this virus? So much has changed because of the pandemic: our sense of freedom in our daily lives, faces still masked for protection, and interaction with others, relegated the virtual world of email and ZOOM. The toll on our personal lives has been quietly relentless. Now, more than ever, we need a re-kindled sense of hope and at the same time, to find gratitude in our here and now. That, for me, is a daily exercise.
As I was writing this post, I remembered a favorite children’s book, Frederick, by Leo Lionni. Published in 1967, I originally bought the book when my daughters were toddlers, it became a bedtime story staple for several years. Yet Frederick has such lasting charm, I’ve given it as a gift to other children, and a few adult friends as well. Frederick also accompanied me to my writing groups, its collage illustrations, wonderful storyline, and message a gift for anyone.
Frederick is about the story of a group of field mice who are gathering their supplies for the long winter ahead—all but one, that is, Frederick. He is shown basking in the late autumn sun or sitting and staring at the meadow. When asked why he isn’t working, he replies he is working: gathering “sun rays for the cold, dark winter days” or colors, “for winter is gray” or other “supplies” of his own. Winter comes, and the mice take refuge among their hideout in the stones, at first, enjoying plenty of food and conversation, but as the winter months lengthen, they run low on supplies. They remember what Frederick had said and ask, “What about your supplies, Frederick?” Frederick climbs on a big stone and instructs them to close their eyes. He begins to share descriptions of the sun, the colors of summer, and finally, his words: a poem about the four seasons, all to the delight of the mice, who have been transported to sunnier memories, hope, and gratitude for Frederick’s supplies – his poetry, just as I was again transported, my spirits warmed, in re-reading Lionni’s priceless little story.
We will, in a week’s time, huddle together for a quiet Christmas with our Toronto daughter and her family, all of us vaccinated with our booster shots and exercising similar cautions. Just knowing we won’t be alone, as we were a year ago during COVID, is comforting. We’ll have plenty of food for our cold, dark days, and the shared stories of Christmases past will warm our spirits and hearts. Having at least part of our family nearby, to weather this fourth wave together in our familial cocoon, is a sustaining antibody against falling into despair. Maybe that’s also something to do with hope for the season to come.
…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
you have nothing to do but live
(Grief Sweat, by Jody Aliesan, Broken Moon Press, 1990)
I wish you a peaceful holiday season, gratitude for those in your lives who make a difference and for our beleaguered healthcare workers, and the hope we may find renewal and better times in the months to come.
Writing Suggestions: (Set the timer for 5 minutes and write—as fast as you can, without stopping.)
* Where do you find hope in your life?
* What, despite everything, are you grateful for?
* How has the prolonged pandemic affected your life?
* What’s kept you going through this protracted and altered time?