Textual Arachne

A weaver of threads.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fading light

It's been a while. The time between Samhain and Solstice has tumbled by in a frantic rush, full of productivity--but not of writing. I feel as if I've let a month evade me, somehow...or been trampled by it. Despite attending the AAR, finishing all my applications, and (mostly) completing a semester, I still feel as if the beginning of winter has slipped out of my hands. (The unseasonable weather probably helped.)

And facing the upcoming Solstice feels like the natural outcome of this tumbling rush. While I find it easier to celebrate the winter holidays, they are darker and less "holiday" than "holy day," in the "fear and trembling" sense. They're easier to celebrate because in the grey months, some sign of the year turning is desperately needed, and they don't get drowned out by the shouting joys of summer. But they happen during thin times, cold times, draining times, and the celebration of them doesn't make that less true.

Last year, I was studying Tisha B'Av in the week preceding the Winter Solstice, and the pairing of its sorrow and loss with the chill grey light seemed very apt. It's probably due to reading lots of the Velveteen Rabbi among other Jewish bloggers, but this year thinking about Solstice has me thinking about Hanukkah.

In the weeks directly preceding the Winter Solstice, I'm often frantic. I scurry around, trying to get everything done while there's still light. I burn the midnight oil--and this year, I ended up with a nasty head cold as a result of pushing my body. All I can think is that time is running out. Maybe for buying Christmas presents (my family celebrates a secular Christmas; I celebrate Solstice on my own or with my lover), or for writing papers, or for just getting my life in order, but there's no time left. I have to use everything I have left to get through the remaining tasks.

It is as if I am trying to build up the fire against the darkness. I think of horror movies when the electric light flickers and fails, and the dark comes rushing in. Or the moment in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the torch, the only thing holding off all those snakes, goes out in Marian's hands. I'm tossing everything on the fire, hoping to keep the dark time away, desperately trying to stave off the inevitable turning of the seasons.

And on the Solstice, there's no more fuel left. The darkest, longest night is here. All that remains is this tiny flame. We look at it and think, there's no way this flame will last. There's no way this single light will do anything other than die.

Thinking that--accepting that--changes something. All we have left is this tiny light; it's not up to us anymore, not dependent on our ability to burn ourselves out or toss everything on the fire. And we watch that tiny light, sure that it won't last, and yet somehow, that's enough.

The miracle of Hanukkah, the miracle of the Solstice is what happens next. The light gets bigger. Brighter, stronger. It's not much--two candles instead of one, two more minutes of daylight--but it's there. The wondrous lamp oil that should barely have lasted a single night lasts for eight. The signs that say that winter will last forever and the sun will never return are gently, quietly contradicted.

Once the Solstice is past, we will still have to live through winter; we will have to accept the dark and grey months, accept our part in them, and love them as part of the year. And until the Solstice is here, I will continue to fuss and fret against the dying of the light, frantic to get things done before the sleep of the winter overtakes me. But on Solstice itself, there is that always familiar, always uncertain moment when the last bit of light does not diminish, but grows.