reaching toward the light

macro view of a frozen drop of water

cw: descriptions of sadness and depression

TOPICAL: this is part of The Cycle of the Seasons series

I think Saturdays tend to be writing days because I have the chance to breathe a bit and think the thoughts that clamored for my attention all week. I’m thoughtful to a fault; if I have not finished thinking a thought all the way through, I will not act on it. I used to believe that I was very quick-thinking, ready to jump from one thing to the next, but it turns out that I jumped because I was running from a Thing that was close enough to grab at my heels.

Trauma causes us to create new ways to behave, to keep ourselves safe, to keep the dark away.

The solstice approaches: Yule and the winter solstice for my northern hemisphere people, Litha and the summer solstice if you’re in the southern hemisphere. As a family, we observe Yule and Twelfth Night as our winter holidays. They’re more like markers, specific dates where we are building our family traditions year by year.

In my religious tradition, Yule is always December 21st and Twelfth Night is always January 2nd. During these twelve days, while the light begins to lengthen the days, minutes at a time, it is so easy to succumb to the darkness around us. It makes our limbs heavy and our hearts tender with sadness.

Grief is the flavor of deep winter and joy is the flame of hope.

So we have to look at joy the same way we look at hope; as a discipline. We cannot trust ourselves to unthinkingly reach for joy, so we must decide to do it. No matter how the reaching feels like artifice, we must do it. Our capacity for easier access to our own joy can only grow if we are willing to work at it a little at a time. A year at a time. A season at a time.

I can say this from personal experience: if I do not take inventory beforehand of what brings me joy and what brightens hope for me, I will not remember it during the deepest dark. As the sun seems to pause before coming back and warming us again, my thoughts often turn to what feels blue for me. I want to listen to music that amplifies my grief. I have a tendency to watch movies that horrify me or bring me to tears of hopelessness. It is so hard to find what will invite warmth back into the inside of my own self.

As a person who thinks about death and writes about death, it is hard to decide to dwell on other things. I have personal experience with what death feels like, what the underneath places sound like, and how crossing a threshold changes a person. Because I have a sense of what it feels like, it is easier for me to grasp with more nuance the things about grief and death and dying that I want to understand. And because I am a person who believes — however erroneous it might be — that I need to know what a thing feels like in order to orient toward it, this time of year is incredibly difficult to get through.

These are the hardest questions to answer: what brings me joy? What leads me toward hope?

The warmth of a cozy blanket when the air is cold. The softness of our toddler’s forehead when I smooth his hair out of his eyes for the umpteenth time. The belief that my family will be okay.

Music that makes my body want to dance.

Lights that dot the road and lead me forward.

The sureness that engaging in acts of hope increases the amount of hope around me. The belief that I am not alone. The experience of being needed.

Love without strings attached. Being seen for who I am and who I am not.

Every year the same thing.

As surely as the calendar plods along (even when the days get mixed up and blur together), the planet moves and the sun moves inside the moving universe and there are always times of plenty and times of barrenness.

It is correct that there are festival days that honor the fallow earth and our innate need to draw inward, and it is correct that there are festival days that honor the explosion of life and the enough-ness of harvest that brings enough to share. Every year the same thing. Every cycle repeats.

If we can believe that a harvest contributes to our reserves, we can believe that it will happen again, every time the wheel of the year turns to mark the season. And if we can believe there are times of enough-ness marked on the re-occuring wheel, we can believe that a time of fallow earth and early darkness will not last forever, because it too is part of the cycle.

The darkness never lasts. The light always returns. The light always remains, however small the flickering of your candle flame.

And here is a thing to add to your pile of hopefulness: we are not the same every year. There are things that happen each year that change us, and even though the cycle repeats unending, we are different every time. It is perhaps more of a spiral upward than a flat circle.

There is room for your grief. There is also room for your joy, and the act of reaching for your joy is an act of bravery.

In the darkness, reach toward the light, because the light will reach back.

As a post-script, here is a selection from a song that feels like warmth and comfort for me.

Ships will sink and castles they will fall

Wish that I could somehow fix it all

But I’ll be there, I’ll be there

Arms to keep you warm

Shelter from the storm

Cold hearts outside

Snow keeps falling

I hold you tight

No we’re not running

No we’re not running

I’ll surround you

Warmest Solstice blessings to you. May you walk in the Light.

feature image is a photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Nix Kelley
Co-parent to multiple kids. Writer. Death doula. Member of the Order of the Good Death. Seeker on the Path of Light. Queer, non-binary, & trans.


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