Today is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It’s a time of darkness in a hard winter, but also a time of light as the sun begins to return. Perhaps it is fitting that I face the solstice with a tangle of contradictory feelings.
I usually love the holiday season but I have never felt the darkness of winter like I do today. My family won’t be together the same way because we’re observing physical distancing. We won’t share a huge Christmas dinner or have one of every kind of cookie. My niece and nephew will still enjoy their presents, but we won’t all be able to share in their joy (and manic energy) the same way.
It’s more than that, though. I am feeling all the terrible things that have happened this year, all the things that I don’t think anyone has been able to process yet. I still feel the raw horror and grief of George Floyd’s murder. I am still furious at our leaders–both parties, all levels of government–who failed us over and over as they bungled the pandemic response in myriad ways. Every time I get angry at people for not wearing masks or not staying home I remember that our leaders should have prepared and instructed us better.
I cannot–and perhaps no one can–fathom and internalize the magnitude of loss and destruction unleashed by the pandemic (and exacerbated by the failures in response). Jobs lost and businesses closed. Children left behind because they could not succeed in remote schooling for any number of reasons. The disproportionate impact on women, minorities and marginalized people, essential workers, and people with disabilities. The ripple effects of straining the healthcare system past its capacity translated into worse outcomes for everyone.
And the dead. More dead each day than September 11th, so many each day and this year that I don’t believe anyone can feel the true weight of this. We know how to mourn individuals or a group lost in a single shocking event. But this toll goes on and on like a war. The death toll in the US as I write this is 78% of the total US military deaths in all of World War II. More Americans will die from Covid-19 this month than died in the entire Vietnam War. The only way to quantify it is in comparison to wars and that is still abstract. No one can feel the magnitude of that much death.
The suffering of the long haulers is a little easier to understand, at least to the extent it is similar to life with ME. Everyone in our community expected that some people would survive but not fully recover from Covid-19. I wasn’t surprised when they met with disbelief from doctors and policy makers and I am so glad that specialty clinics are opening and NIH is investing in research. Yet I also feel envious of them. Decades of suffering and advocacy by people with ME has not garnered the same level of attention, acceptance, and resources. It’s not fair and I resent that.
I feel all this darkness wrapped around me, like a pile of unwelcome weighted blankets. There will be eleven hours of sunlight in my area today but my heart is struggling to feel that there is any at all.
Yet winter solstice is itself the lesson. It is the longest night, which means every other night is shorter. Every other day has more light. The sun comes and goes, as do the seasons, serving as Exhibit A for impermanence and change. It’s true that 2020 has been a brutal and difficult year but it is coming to an end. Things will not always be this terrible. It can’t be, because everything changes.
Yesterday I told a friend that I wanted to build a big bonfire for the solstice to incinerate 2020. She jokingly suggested that we could literally burn the year by writing down things that we’re happy to have end and throwing them in the fire. It started as a joke but we both quickly got excited about the idea. I said that I might write some things down on kindling just so I could watch them burn longer than pieces of paper.
I got caught up in imagining the things from 2020 that I want to see burned and destroyed. Imagination and train of thought is as changeable and inconstant as everything else, though. I started to think of the things I would like to keep, the things that were not terrible–or were even good–about this year. Perhaps I can think of more things I want to keep than things I want to burn. I am excessively lucky that this might even be possible.
If you are also feeling the weight of 2020 and all that entails, hang on. This year will end. The pandemic will ease. So will the darkness.