What's Tony Thinking

Thoughts at the Solstice


The shortest day of the year is moving toward its end as I write. We were scheduled to have 8 and 1/2 hours of daylight here at latitude 47. I didn’t realize how far north Seattle is until the year I taught in Toronto. I thought we would go “up” to Canada, when we actually went down, at least to Toronto. Seattle is about the same latitude as far more northerly Montreal.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder,” brought on by the combination of shortened days and regular cloud cover, is a common winter malady here. There are strategies for overcoming SAD for every budget. At the high end, go to Mexico or Hawaii. Mid-range options include buying and sitting in front of bright lights. For everyone else, it’s strong coffee and getting outside to soak up whatever daylight there is. One of the best things about skiing is that you often are up above the cloud layer, catching some bright sunshine in the sky and on the snow.

The darkness does seem to give rise to quite elaborate light displays here in the Pacific Northwest, like the one we took on this longest night at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, “Wildlights.” Easily the most extensive light display I’ve ever seen. Photo is of grandsons — cousins — Colin (6) and Levi (5) at the zoo. When I was their age, or a little older and growing up in Washington D. C., my parents would take us each year to the ceremony where the President lit “the national Christmas Tree.” There was always one tree for each state. My sister and I ran around until we found the tree of our home state, Oregon.

One might observe that there’s another form of “seasonal affective disorder,” the one prompted by holidays themselves. Lots of “triggers” this time of year, in the parlance of the recovery community. What  happened when we were kids. What didn’t happen when we were kids. That stuff gets stirred up. We get bent out of shape and don’t know why.

And then the pressure at Christmas for some sort of perfect family, one wrapped up with a bow. It is some comfort, isn’t it, that Joseph, Mary and their kid weren’t perfect by the world’s standards. An unwed mother. A bewildered, if devoted, fiancé. And no home of their own, no room even at the local inn.

The whole Biblical story is a testimony to God’s capacity to work in and through human sin and failure. As colleague Ken Samuel observed in his recent UCC Daily Devotional, “God works through our flaws and dysfunctions to move us toward the Light . . . in spite of ourselves.”

That’s the theological point of view on a dark night. From a human point of view, it’s a good time to be gentle with ourselves and to extend to others an extra measure of grace.

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