The winter solstice is the longest night and shortest day of the year.
It’s an opportunity for me to notice ways I’ve internalized messages that dark is bad and light is good.
It’s an opportunity to celebrate darkness, to sit in darkness, to feel the comforts and discomforts of being enveloped in darkness.
What does darkness mean to me?
The literally darkest experience I have had was sitting in a room-like space in a cave in the forests of Belize. The room had markings and objects from centuries ago, the meanings of which aren’t entirely known. We sat down, turned off our flashlights, and observed a few moments of absolute absence of light. I could see nothing. It was quiet. I knew this place in this cave was important. Being there in complete darkness even for a short while, time didn’t feel the same. It was a little scary. It was magical.
I’ve spent most of my life living in urban places. Looking up at a truly dark night sky peppered by stars as plentiful as grains of sand is something I’ve only seen a couple of times. Seeing the universe lit up by the night was magnificent. It made me feel small in the best way. The night sky I see out of my bedroom window in Atlanta is gray-blue, brightened by city lights. It’s harder to see stars and thus to remember this universe I am part of.
I love sleeping in a very dark room. It feels delicious to be enveloped in the sweet darkness of a cozy warm room, wrapped in blankets, with no distractions including the red and green dots of a TV or some other plugged in thing. To feel the heaviness of my eyelids and body, especially when my overactive mind slows and moves into the rhythm of sound sleep and dreams, is a great gift.
My skin is pale. Where and when did my ancestors start associating dark skin with savageness, beastliness, not belonging, not deserving, less than? They did not do this alone or all at once. It was the exploitative project of whiteness, built over centuries, spanning the Atlantic ocean and growing into a uniquely ugly system on this continent. Believing pale is good and dark is not helps us to feel (superficially) good about ourselves and remain un-implicated in the racial injustices of now and then. I don’t love having pale skin, but I’m trying not to hate my skin or myself. I know many of the ways having pale skin affects my day-to-day life in the U.S.A., though new aspects of this are constantly revealing themselves to me. I know I can simultaneously hate what whiteness means in our society and love myself. I know that I have to love myself in order to be part of the project of racial justice and liberation.
On this day of the year, we make the shift from nights getting longer to nights getting shorter and days getting longer. Each day from now until June 21, we have a few more minutes of sunlight and a few less minutes of night.
Getting less literal and more metaphorical, what are the parts of me that have stayed safely in the shadows so far, but need to come into the light in 2018? Sometimes dark is protection, and light is exposure. Which parts of me are ready to be seen now that weren’t before? What am I ready to see that I was not ready to see before?
Dark is beautiful. Light is beautiful. They both have their time and place in our year, in each day, on this earth. What can we learn from our planet about this that will help us all get free?
Essay originally published at: https://medium.com/@jenwillsea/mediations-about-darkness-on-the-shortest-day-of-the-year-1b6d44a5aedb