Midwinter. The day we say goodbye to darkness and welcome the light. The solstices and equinoxes signal new seasons. These seasonal transitions are the perfect times to set personal intentions. But no transition is more potent than the Winter Solstice. The symbolism of light's triumph over darkness has resonated with mankind throughout the ages.
This poem , The Bleak Midwinter was written in 1872 by Christina Rossetti. It was first used as a hymn in the English Hymnal of 1906, where it appeared with a tune composed by Gustav Holst, "Cranham," written for this poem.
The Winter Solstice falls on December 22nd this year, the day the sun is the lowest in the southern sky. The exact time is 05:30 GMT. Solstice celebrations have been among the most important festivals since ancient times. The days grew shorter and shorter until the Solstice when the sun began to rise again. The light brings hope and the promise of plenty.
"The most exciting thing in Orkney, perhaps in Scotland, is going to happen this afternoon at sunset, in few other places even in Orkney can you see the wide hemisphere of sky in all its plenitude.
The winter sun just hangs over the ridge of the Coolags. Its setting will seal the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. At this season the sun is a pale wick between two gulfs of darkness. Surely there could be no darker place in the be-wintered world than the interior of Maeshowe.
One of the light rays is caught in this stone web of death. Through the long corridor it has found its way; it splashes the far wall of the chamber. The illumination lasts a few minutes, then is quenched
Winter after winter I never cease to wonder at the way primitive man arranged, in hewn stone, such powerful symbolism."The poet George Mackay Brown on midwinter at Maeshowe.
A 4700 year old structure built so that the passageway points directly towards sunset on the Winter Solstice.
This day brings renewal and with it, an opportunity to renew ourselves. The transition from dark to light is the perfect time to examine motivations and goals. What changes can we make so that our lives will run more smoothly? This is the ideal time for resolutions.
Grief's pain is emptiness. Memories fill the hole. What I first experienced as a jumbled overload of images quieted, the new calm bringing perceptible sensations to my memories. Sparked by a sound, a taste, or perhaps a rustling of fabric, memories send me time-traveling. In the minutiae of a typical day two wires touch and I am "unstuck in time." And I enjoy the journey.
Sometimes I feel her. Not spectral yet just as startling. Not a dream yet just as intangible. It's more like her essence. Palpable. It happened the other night. Up late to read a book, I turned a page and there she was. I gasped, "oh, Mom, you're here!" What word, what thought triggered such a feeling? I'll never know. Just as quickly, she vanished.
I incorporate her. After I lifetime of hearing I favor my father what a surprise to find I resemble my mother. After she died the face I saw looking at me in the mirror was hers. Reaching for my morning coffee with two hands I noted, "that's just the way Mom held her cup." Now even my language duplicates her as I integrate her old sayings into my speech. It's a comfort to celebrate our similarities.
I honor her with family rituals. Today, Memorial Day, is the day we pick mums from the front yard, put them in coffee cans and drive across town to the cemetery. For as long as I can remember we cared for the family plot by trimming overgrown grass and leaving cut flowers at each grave. I still see a vivid picture of my grandmother in her flowered dress and sun hat, kneeling in the grass, tidying headstones with a pair of scissors. Years later, I took my sons along and cried with mother while we tended Grandmother's grave. And today we care for Mom's place.
I see her in the margins. Two Mother's Days, a birthday, the better part of two Memorial Days and an ocean of tears have passed. Instead of fighting an aching loss I've welcomed her back. Instead of grasping at distant memories I see her right here, every day. In a hand-written envelope addressed to her grandchild. In a Post-It Note with her trademark greeting: "Hey Babe, I Love You!" And in my favorite, a worn collection of cookbooks and recipe cards, Mom's notes penned in the margins. My connection to the past that brings a smile to the present.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could show our kids how to comfort themselves in a positive way? If there is pain let's treat it rather than hide it. How about making a first aid kit of healthy comforts? With music we all have the best way to soothe our sorrow.
With my recent marriage and the stress of combining our households I found myself cooking a lot more comfort food. The change in routines had us all weary and on edge at the same time. The plans, the excitement, the anticipation gave way to deadlines and disruptions. I felt fussy and out of sorts. Let down and lost. Not sure what to do next I turned to mushy foods. Did I forget that I can comfort myself?
I think about the warm pulse of my newborn child against my skin. After the overwhelming emotions of childbirth he comforted me as I sang to him. My mother remembered my grandmother playing the piano in the evenings so long ago. She and her sister whirled around the living room, little girls awash in the music. A turntable and a pair of headphones eased the lonely childhood of my first husband. These comforting rituals all rely on the vibrations of music.
The vibrations of the world embrace us before we're born. We're all tuned to a living vibration. We respond to pulse, rhythm and breath because it's our life force. It's no mistake that the instruments we play correspond to our bodies--strings vibrate with living energy, winds are the breath of life and percussion is the beating of our hearts. What better way to comfort ourselves than with music?
A blues recording played again and again, a childhood lullaby or a plaintive melody you perform for yourself can all be a salve in heartsick times. As a teacher it's fascinating to me how many students respond to music written in a minor key. The sad music helps us reach the unspoken feelings that are deep inside. It can give a voice to our sorrows. And it can offer comfort.
I have fewer gloomy days now. My new husband and I are talking about the tough stuff instead of hiding it. I'm choosing more hot baths and lavender and less macaroni and cheese. And I'm turning to music. Alone in my studio I pick up my viola, play a simple melody and feel the soothing vibrations of the universe.