A Solstice Essay
A few days late, but as I thought about how important having a secular choice in recovery has been to me, I thought maybe I’d riff on light and dark today. Whether you’re in Sweden or South Africa, the Yukon or Tierra del Fuego, or somewhere in between, the summer and winter solstice times offer opportunities to notice, and be thankful for, both light and darkness.
Something I found surprisingly peaceful about living for four months pretty much on the equator was the regularity of the days. I think I noticed it the most when we were up at Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolf). Maybe it was because I was surrounded by paleontologists (it’s hard to ignore being in the company of Richard and Maeve Leakey) and thinking a lot not just about human origins but about human strife. There are still prejudices and grudges held between villages and tribes in the Turkana region; one conflict last year that started with a stolen fishing net ended up escalating to stolen goats, stolen cattle, and finally, directly or indirectly, to the deaths of 40 people. Anyway, where we were, there was a lot of silence and opportunity for deep, reflective solitude once I finally got into the rhythm of the place.
The sun always rose a few minutes before 6 am, gently changing the landscape from dark, dark shadows to the muted palette of the desert, the muddy brown of the Turkana River, and the amazing growth of tiny grasses and flowers in the days after an unseasonal downpour. I have always been fond of photographing small, beautiful things growing out of impossible spaces. But that’s kind of what our sobriety is like at the start: a small, beautiful thing growing out of an impossible place, in an inhospitable climate. Then, somehow, over time, the space seems less impossible, the climate less inhospitable, and our ability to flourish in our space on the planet seems more possible.
In the Turkana Basin, the sun always sets 12 hours after it rises. The Turkana have a word-phrase for the end of the short dusk (the sun drops very quickly) which translates, roughly, to “the time when you can no longer see your feet in the sand.” You have to be awake and alert to notice that moment. And it’s a magical one that happens every day, and at that point, the desert begins to cool and what night breeze there is starts to make the mosquito net that hangs above the bed move, ever so slightly, in the darkness. Sleep beckons.
The farther we are from the equator, of course, the longer and shorter our respective days and nights are. In part, I guess I’m trying to say I think of sobriety as being at some kind of emotional equator where different things — good weather and bad, if you will — happen during the days and nights, but that, all in all, the good things and the bad; the darkness and light within ourselves and outside of ourselves somehow find balance.
I’m not sure that makes any sense whatsoever. But it’s been fun to write about the desert and ignore the “wintery mix” falling outside. Wishing each of you (and all of us, together) simple joys, in abundance, for the holiday season and new year.
hugs (and a seasonal fa la la la la)
from ma ha ha la