Teri Orr: Moving towards the light…
I was introduced to the concept of solstice I was in my mid-20s. A bunch of new friends invited me to cross-country ski outside Alpine Meadows where I lived in Lake Tahoe. It one of “those” nights. Full moon, good friends, great excursion. Someone had gone ahead, prepared a site and laid a fire, which just magically seemed to appear. With bota bags of wine we tossed our cares into the fire and toasted the return to the light.
It seems so counter-intuitive this solstice. The spring and fall solstices are about balance — when the days and nights are equal in dark and light. But the summer and winter ones mess with my head. The light starts to leave again as summer is blossoming in late June. Yet the 4th of July picnic is still ahead. And all those August days at the beach.
So it is with winter. There isn’t yet, this season, enough snow to make a decent snowman in the front yard. The dark nights are bitter cold and the black coats of Sundance have yet to appear. We have many moons before any creatures will be possibly seeing their shadows at dawn.
But still — we are here. If not the march toward light, at least the tiptoe. At little more at dawn and end of day.
I was thinking about all this the other morning when, in my not-sleeping state I switched on the radio and heard NPR folks ask each other seasonal questions. One said something along the lines of … the reason she loved this time of year so much was it allowed her to suspend rational thinking and believe in magic.
So at the office holiday party I tried out that question, “What makes you suspend belief and experience magic?” The answers were all a product of our environment. It was about where we live (including the young woman missing the scent of orange trees in Southern California). The rest of us saw versions (and visions) of a winter wonderland. How quiet it is when it snows … How the world slows down … How peaceful it can be to sit on a chairlift and hear a swish-swish of a skier below. Colored lights covered by snow. The rooftops like icing. The kids on sleds. The catching snowflakes on our tongue-silliness of it all.
That winter solstice in Tahoe I remember not wanting to share how scared I was — newly divorced with two kids under eight. It was my weekend to be childless and I was living in the margins between Friday evening at 5 and Sunday evening at 6 … every other weekend. I had no idea who I was or where I was headed. Being taught about the solstice and gifts of nature were new to the girl raised 20 minutes from Haight-Ashbury. And I kinda loved it.
After my move here I lost track of the concept of solstice for about a decade. More kid stuff and life and then suddenly I was with a coven of strong women who wrote notes about their desires for the year ahead, made reckoning with the year past and wrote it all down on pieces of paper they tossed where the yule log burned bright. I loved all the symbolism and paganism and ritual and magic in the crackling flames.
A few years back I remember complaining to a few close friends about feeling I was in a dark space. I needed a directional signal — I think I said. Something obvious — like a lighthouse. My older male friend had no patience for my indulgence — “BE the lighthouse,” he said. BE the lighthouse? He told me looking for others to do — for us — would never make us whole. It wasn’t until I learned to direct my own light that I would be useful to others and therefore myself.
Be the lighthouse. It is so much harder than it sounds.
We are here on the map of good intentions when the dark retreats and the light emerges. It is a chance to do the small thing — perhaps no more than the equivalent of a flashlight ray needed in a darkened theater, or on a nighttime forest trail, or shine under the possibly monster-infested bed of a child. We always think what matters is the grand gesture — the kelig light in the sky before a premiere, the Fourth of July fireworks, the high beams from a snowplow in a blizzard.
But it turns out the smallest gesture is where the flicker matters. This time of year I try at least once, to go to a diner, order a meal, then tip the waitress the same amount as the bill. Outrageous you say? What difference does that make? Trust me you won’t miss the $20 bill, but the waitperson will walk a little taller because one person saw them. Saw their light. Once in Salt Lake I found a diner near where my car was getting serviced. I was seated in a corner booth — the only customer for nearly two hours. I had more than one pot of tea. She found me honey. I left her cash and snuck out the door. She chased me down the street. Said I had clearly made a mistake — I had left an extra $20 bill on the table. I assured her the money was meant for her. She burst into tears, told me about being a single mom and a bunch of other stuff. I gave her a hug … my shadow self. And I wished her a brand new year.
I didn’t change her life of course, but for a moment I changed how she saw her life. And being that flicker of light — if only for a moment — is a kind of magic. This is the week when the dark shifts ever so slightly. Feel free to add to the brightness — any day … maybe Sunday in the Park…
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The skiing conditions are bad, the coronavirus is still raging and the news is frightening. So Tom Clyde went outside. He didn’t regret it.