Today is the shortest day of the year. Tonight will be the longest night.
If you’re a word geek, you might know that the etymology (or, root) of the word has to do with the Latin words for “sun,” and “still.” At solstice, summer and winter, the sun literally stops, is still for a moment, and then changes direction. Tonight, the sun will change course — I’ve always imagined it as if the sun rolls up inside itself on its way to December 21, and then unrolls again back to June 21.
I wonder what that moment of stillness tonight might hold…
Is it possible that all our pain and heartache from this last year might be held, right in the center of that of stillness, and somehow softened? Redeemed, even? Or at least offered a glimpse of hope? Could we, like the sun, change course and begin a journey towards something better? Something less godawfulpainful than what we’ve been living?
It seems the right time of year for a miracle.
Last night, I had this fleeting thought about what exactly has been so damn difficult about the last year. There’s a whole host of things we could name, but I suspect that at the core of our grief and anguish (because we are most certainly in a time of communal mourning) is the very real, and often very startling, truth, that our time here on earth is so very finite. And between our first and last day, there is so much that we cannot control.
I’ve noted before that a friend of ours, a cancer survivor himself, told me last spring that cancer was going to teach me new things. He was not wrong. And while I would have picked a different professor for sure, had I been given a choice, I find myself deeply grateful for having come (quite sharply) face to face with my own mortality. It changed me in ways I am still trying to make sense of, but that I know have made me more of who God created me to be.
COVID-19 has forced us to reckon with the truth of our finite lives–and with the reality that there is so little we can control. All the money in the world, the finest of houses, the most perfect schools, the most well-lived and faithful lives–none of this can protect us from how something as simple as a global virus (even if we do not contract it ourselves) can wreak havoc with all that we have built up around us. Isolation and financial ruin and disrupted normalcies are deep griefs of their own.
Grief is a darkness all its own. It changes you. It changes us. Some of us draw closer to one another in it; others pull further away.
And so the thought of a long night, when this whole year has often seemed one….
Except even in the dark of this long night, there will be light. Tonight, for the first time since the deep darkness of the Middle Ages, Jupiter and Saturn will come so close together that it will appear they are one giant planet. The phenomenon has, for perhaps obvious reasons, been nicknamed, “The Christmas Star.”
And y’all, I’ve got no real reason, no proof as such, but I can’t help but believe that there is something rather mystical, perhaps even God-like about it all. Because, look, I wasn’t there 2000-plus years ago. But my faith tells me that angels sang and shepherds gathered and a young girl gave birth in a messy manger. And it all happened during a time when no one in their right mind would want to welcome a child–Rome’s tyranny had run completely amuck and things were bad all over. But into all of that–straight into all the terribleness of it all…well, light and love showed up. No magic–it’s not like Mrs. Weasley waved her wand and everything was perfect by morning. But hope. Real, live, breathing, desperate hope was born.
And like Andy Dufresne said to Red, “Hope is a good thing…”
Like I said. It seems the right time of year for a miracle.
My head and heart are full of all the pain I know, and all the pain I don’t know, all across the world, even as I type these words; so, know this: I have known long, dark nights. I have wondered if morning would every actually show up. I have slid down a wall to the floor below in tears, begging God with ragged breath to please do something. I have feared for my own life and wellbeing, and for the life and wellbeing of my most loved.
I have known long, dark nights.
I have also seen light pierce the darkness. And so I know it is possible for all that has left us so hopeless and worn to somehow, beyond our wildest imaginings, be redeemed.
And so y’all? It doesn’t seem too far a stretch to believe that maybe this year, just as the sun stands still, we might have a chance after all.
Because even this longest night will not last forever.