A ribbon of orange lifts the night-sky curtain: it’s the literal crack of dawn here in Seattle, eight minutes before eight a.m. Welcome to the week of the winter solstice, when every day tops out at just under eight and a half hours.
It’s dark. Even during our eight hours of daylight, it’s pretty dark: the winter sun is no match for these thick winter clouds. We were lucky, the first half of December, which local weather expert Cliff Mass says was the driest on record. But dry or not, this is the season when we can’t take light for granted. We have to create it ourselves.
And so we do: we string lights on our houses. We drag trees inside, and cover them with lights. We build fires and light candles. We go to brightly lit stores and malls. Sometimes it feels a little manic, this chasing after light. This denial of the 15 and a half hours of daily darkness that is really what December is about.
Darkness feels dangerous. Uncomfortable. Blind. Who wants it? Who needs it?
We do. Think of how we all started out: it took us nine solid months of darkness before we were ready to open our lungs and breathe, open our eyes and see. Newborn babies know darkness, not light. They only learn to fear the dark as they rely on their eyes more and more to tell them where their parents are; where safety and comfort lie.
Seeds lie deep underground in the winter, content and dormant. Their desperation for light begins the moment they break ground. But for now, like an unborn child, they wait, patiently, in the dark.
We need darkness and quiet—and patience—in order to grow.
Of all the old-fashioned virtues, patience is the one we value least. The patient waiting that used to be what the pre-Christmas season of Advent was all about has become a crazed countdown that begins with a day called Black Friday:
as if we actually know just how warped this darkness-denying shopping mania really is. As if we think by copping to it, we can claim we’re fulfilling some sort of Darwinian, light-seeking destiny.
But there’s been a counter-trend this holiday season, one captured perfectly by TIME magazine when it named the Protester its Person of the Year. I believe the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring have been all about shining a light ON the darkness. Into it. People are tired of the fake light of empty promises. They are standing up and saying: we are the 99 per cent and we are in a dark time. We struggle to make ends meet. We have had enough of hypocrisy and lip service to democracy. We want the real thing. We have been growing strong, in this darkness, and now we are ready to shine a truth-seeking light.
The Occupy protesters got some flack for not having “clear demands.” Their demand is simple: shine a light. Show us the truth.
We moved into our new house on Halloween weekend. One of the first things we did was buy some new light fixtures. We also bought boxes of tea light candles. I put my red paper star-shaped light in my office window. We knew we wouldn’t feel at home until we got the lighting right.
It’s good to move in to a new place in the darkest months. It’s good to take some time to make the nest cozy, light our lights. Make peace with the darkness and get ready to grow again as the days grow longer.