Winter Solstice fell on a Friday. A church bell, its percussive cut-off left to linger to its unmuffled end, pealed in remembrance of twenty children and six educators who were alive and beginning their elementary school day just a week ago.
When the bell began to ring it was snow-free but stormy, winds so high that a “wind warning” endured through early afternoon. (No more practical guidance was dispensed to we travellers than has been available when a “terrorism alert” turns from sunny yellow to clementine.)
Then, as if there had been a sudden change of mind in the heavens, the sky became brilliantly lit not long before sundown. It remained that way–fully out of darkness (not merely halfway, as Dr. Who’s view of Christmas might have it) for the rest of daylight on a solstice far more than halfway to black.
At the time I happened to be surrounded by places of healing, filled with people like my husband Jim, who spend years of intense and difficult training in order to dedicate their lives to professional service.
These are the kinds of skilled, compassionate people who stood at the ready at Connecticut hospitals last week, awaiting patients in fleets of ambulances which did not come.
As the deep gray snapped out of a sky now filled with clear blue I looked up and saw flags at half-staff.
Like the way current culture seems exclusively to linger on only one kind of haunting, I think ordinarily many of us try to focus on hope and celebration in a season also weighted with a boundless dark side.
Some of us gravitate towards one of two significantly distinct etymological kinds of solace in the solstice: seeking amusement and merriment in the season, or seeking consolation. Since my husband’s death I seem unable to reach wholeheartedly for either.
For ancient Romans, winter solstice arrived on December 25. Of course, at the time said to herald the joyous event of the Savior’s arrival, Herod exercised his rule by the massacre of innocents. It seems impossible either to begin to fathom this recent savagery, or such violence directed at innocents anywhere in the world.
Seamus Heaney, no stranger to the unending historical cycle of human suffering, wrote:
Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured. . . .
History says, Don’t hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.. . .
This winter solstice’s soundtrack returned again and again to this:
So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light
‘Cause oh that gave me such a fright
But I will hold as long as you like
Just promise me we’ll be alright
So lead me back, turn south from that place
And close my eyes to my recent disgrace
‘Cause you know my call
And we’ll share my all
And our children come and they will hear me roar