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Into the Light

December 21, 2012

solstice lightIn the northern hemisphere, today is the winter solstice – the day when our part of the earth makes the turn back toward the light in its annual journey around the sun. From now until the summer solstice, each day will be longer and more light-filled than the one before.

Normally I love the short winter days, savoring the velvety darkness and the star-filled winter nights. But this year is different. This year, I have had enough of darkness. For weeks now, I have been buried in work, with the normal heavy grading load of a three-course semester compounded by the 200+ job applications for a faculty position in the interdisciplinary Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies program that I helped to found. For six weeks, I was also denied my daily dose of light as a back problem prevented me from walking to work. And then came the darkness of the slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut.

The dark days of winter have long been accompanied by festivals of light. In the United States, it is a common practice for people to string multi-colored lights along the rooflines of their houses and around trees in their front yards. As I arrived in Poland, Maine earlier this week, on a miserably cold and rainy night and at the end of an exhausting 12-hour drive, I was greeted by the dazzle of holiday lights at houses along the back roads of my neighborhood. These gaudy displays brightened both the night and my spirits.

As the days begin to lengthen, I am looking forward to the lighter teaching load of the spring semester, to time outside enjoying the light, to time for blog writing and reading, and to the pleasures of the spring garden. This year, I have had enough of darkness; I am ready to move forward into the light.

32 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2012 11:46 am

    Amen, Jean. One of my favorite TV shows of all time, Northern Exposure, did an episode that centered around the importance of light. Light as metaphor, lights that have changed perspectives, lights that comforted or confused . . . I am including a link to a Youtube clip from the final scene of that episode. Your description of driving so long and coming home to find comfort in the holiday lights reminded me of this.

    • December 26, 2012 7:50 pm

      Chad, What a mind-reader you are! I was thinking about that very episode of Northern Exposure (also an all-time favorite of mine :-)) as I drove past the holiday displays. I had only seen the episode when it first appeared and had often longed to see it again, so I was delighted to have the youtube link. Thank you for including it; I have watched it numerous times in the past few days. It was the perfect Christmas gift. Happy holidays!

  2. December 21, 2012 11:52 am

    Good to hear from you, Jean. Sorry you’ve been having back problems. Sounds like the work load has been pretty overwhelming, too. Have a good holiday, and I’m looking forward to when you can resume blogging!

    • December 26, 2012 7:52 pm

      Jason, I have spent the past week getting well-rested (and eating well, too!) and my back problem seems to be clearing up. We’re supposed to get our first major snowfall here (a classic nor’easter) tomorrow, so I may even try some cross-country skiing in the next few days. Happy holidays to you!

  3. December 21, 2012 12:46 pm

    Let’s trust everything will become lighter for you soon, Jean. Take care.

    • December 26, 2012 7:54 pm

      Cathy, One of the things I love about the academic schedule is that, no matter how heavy the workload or how hard the final grading push, once you turn in the final grades, you enter a period of total and delicious relaxation — which is where I am now. I hope you are also having happy and relaxing holidays.

      • December 28, 2012 6:16 am

        I’m glad you have now reached that period of ‘total and delicious’ relaxation. After 5 nights at my Mum’s for Christmas we are now home and happy to be so.

  4. December 21, 2012 12:48 pm

    We are celebrating the winter solstice this evening at Crabtree Gardens. Fifteen amazing women will join to celebrate the night, honor the true spirit of this special season and set intentions for the rest of the year. We too are looking forward to the light and longer days ahead. I’ll keep you in my thoughts tonight Jean. Sandi

    • December 26, 2012 7:58 pm

      Sandi, Your solstice celebration sounds wonderful. This evening, I looked out my kitchen window at dusk just in time to see the near-full moon rising through the woods behind my house and casting beautiful long shadows on the snow. It is a magical sight that I associate with this time of year.

  5. December 21, 2012 4:21 pm

    Tonight I have scatter candles all over the living room, and outside the window next to the sofa I’ve light a small bonfire. LIGHT!!!

    Spring WILL come, and the Spring Equinox is only 3 months away…

    • December 26, 2012 8:02 pm

      Soren, I love the idea of turning off the artificial lights and celebrating the solstice with candle light and a bonfire. I often celebrate winter full moons by turning off the artificial lights and watching the moonrise by candlelight. Is it Danish (I know it’s one of the Nordic languages) that has a word for that delicious feeling of being snuggled up on a long winter night with candlelight and a warming fire?

      • December 27, 2012 7:46 am

        Danish has the intranslatable word “hygge”, which I think might be the one you’re thinking off. It’s all about being cosy and comfy, perhaps in the company of family or good friends, but not necessarily.

        And though my husband find it silly, on Christmas Eve when it becomes time to light the candles (yes, candles) on the Christmas tree, I usher all the guests into a darkened room while I light the tree and then they are admitted to the sitting room where there is no light but the candles on the tree… It’s a feast of light!

  6. December 21, 2012 6:51 pm

    Jean, I could not agree with you more! I’m also rather fed up with the season’s darkness this year. I don’t seem to get half as much accomplished with the short days, the chickens stop laying eggs, and the goats protest that I have to lock them in the barn by 4:30. So looking forward to more light, longer (and hopefully soon, warmer) days. I hope you find a little chance over the holidays to relax, and enjoy the light.

    • December 26, 2012 8:07 pm

      Clare, Now that I’m here in Maine, where winter is a real season, I’m getting into it. It helps that we have snow on the ground, reflecting the light of the moon in a way that only happens in winter. I love waking up in the middle of the night to see bright moonlight shining in my bedroom window. I hope you get longer afternoons for your hens and goats soon. (It seems a cruel irony to be deprived of eggs just when every occasion seems to call for baking.) I hope you are having a wonderful holiday.

  7. December 22, 2012 11:20 am

    God bless you, Jean, and may you have light wherever you need it, even if only at the end of the tunnel 😉 Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    • December 26, 2012 8:09 pm

      Shenandoah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, also. My trip north to Maine, having turned in my final grades the day before, was the light at the end of the tunnel for me. I have been reveling in the chance to sleep, relax, read novels (and blogs!) and cook.

  8. December 22, 2012 1:05 pm

    It has been unusually dark here along the river as well Jean. I keep my lights on. Wishing you an enlightening Merry Christmas and Winter Solstice.

    • December 26, 2012 8:10 pm

      Kathy, Happy holidays to you. I hope you are enjoying the bright winter moonlight on the river as I’m enjoying it on the snow.

  9. December 22, 2012 1:21 pm

    Jean I have been feeling so much the same…my job has been burdened with many duties not mine and training that takes me to our state capital monthly even though I am retiring in 7 months…I am tired and worn out and then the shooting just put me over the edge…I am heart broken as my early days was as an elementary teacher…I am looking for the light and hoping to find more to celebrate it…Merry Christmas and enjoy some rest and light!

    • December 26, 2012 8:12 pm

      Donna, I hope your load is lightening. It seems cruel and unusual punishment to make you do all this traveling to Albany when you’re on the verge of retirement. There ought to be some special light jobs that get assigned to those of us who are short-timers! I hope you are getting some break and a chance for rest and renewal over the holidays.

  10. patientgardener permalink
    December 23, 2012 11:07 am

    I too have been feeling like this struggling under a heavy burden at work, a bad back, and never ending rain. But the daffodils are being to emerge and I have packets of seeds to sow and now we have reached the solstice it is all positive

    • December 26, 2012 8:14 pm

      Helen, I’m amazed that you have daffodils emerging; that won’t happen here for another 3-4 months. I hope that your back, like mine, is feeling better. Happy holidays and enjoy your seed-sowing renewal of life.

  11. December 23, 2012 10:42 pm

    What a lovely drive home that must have been with the lights to guide the way. 200+ applicants for the job?! that seems like an almost extreme amount of people to apply for a single job. I am so pleased that the days are beginning to lengthen again, it’s been dark coming and going from work lately. Felt like I never saw the light of day.

    • December 26, 2012 8:26 pm

      Marguerite, The academic job market is very different from the corporate job market. It is a national (or even international) market, and job seekers need to be prepared to pick up and move to wherever the job is that is a good match. The result is that hundreds of applicants are typical. The year I made the move from Maine to Gettysburg, I also interviewed for positions in Ohio, Oregon, North Dakota, and upstate New York; and I think I also applied for a couple of openings in Canada. During the week before I turned in my grades and drove north to Maine, our search committee narrowed down our applicant pool from 200+ to 12 that we interviewed via Skype and/or telephone. One of those interviewees was in Europe and another was in India. Early in the spring, we will bring several of those 12 semi-finalists to Gettysburg for a 2-day on-campus interview. It’s quite an intensive and involved process to choose a new colleague. Between now and then, though, I am having a deliciously relaxing holiday. I hope your holidays are also lovely and light-filled.

  12. December 24, 2012 1:03 pm

    Jean, For me this year is quite different since this is my first near the sea Xmas, and we are having really mild weather, I miss the cold and short days, the lights and need of hot chocolate, can you believe it? I wish you wonderful holidays, lots of lights and time to enjoy every day pleasures.

    • December 26, 2012 8:30 pm

      Lula, I can believe it. Earlier in my life, I spent a couple of years living in Southern California, and those warm, sunny Christmases never felt quite right to me; like you I missed the dark and the cold and the need for hot chocolate. I hope you are discovering some wonderful new holiday rituals in your new seaside location.

  13. December 25, 2012 8:37 am

    Hello Jean, I am glad you surfaced again, and Merry Merry Christmas. We are not very particular about the equinoxes, but we hope for these December days because of the festivities due to Christmas and the coldest temperatures during the year comes only in December, although our coldest might not even equal your highest temps. I smiled when you said going into the light, because for us going into the light is equated to the normal meaning of the spirit transition during passing to the next phase! When my father was in his deathbed, in a coma, not anymore responding to medications and the doctors already ttalked to us about his condition, I being the eldest, talked to him. I told him to just follow the light when he sees it, and don’t think about us anymore, we already can manage it here. Just follow the light. Am sorry about my meaning, but i understand what you mean. By the way, I am sorry about your back, I have that same condition too! Take care.

  14. December 26, 2012 8:35 pm

    Andrea, I am very happy to have resurfaced; and I hope to keep my head above water until next fall, when I will once again have to submerge myself in my last heavy teaching semester before I retire. I am enjoying delicious, relaxing days with lots of sleep, good food, and novels to read; and both my spirits and my back are responding to the change.

    I think “going into the light” is a lovely way to think about death. Your story about your father resonated for me, because my father also needed permission to let go. My mother told him that it was okay for him to get going and that she would “be along shortly.”

    I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

  15. December 26, 2012 9:07 pm

    Hi Jean, I’m so sorry about your back injury. I’m sure this makes all your other tasks much more difficult. I hope you had a wonderful, light-filled Christmas. Spring can’t come soon enough.

  16. December 27, 2012 10:19 pm

    The lack of daylight affects me, too. I have to make sure I leave my classroom in order to give me enough daylight time to keep my internal self balanced. I hope your back feels better. Just think – every day that passes is one day closer to spring. 🙂

  17. December 28, 2012 12:43 pm

    Hi Jean. Sorry to hear about your back problem. It isn’t too cold on this side of the pond and I have bulbs sprouting which is somewhat cheering but half the nation is flooded! Fairy lights also lift my spirits. I get very depressed when the Christmas tree has to come down.

  18. December 28, 2012 4:16 pm

    I look forward to your return to blogging, particularly because it will mean you, Jean, are in a brighter place. I wish you a happier new year!

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