It is winter in Australia. In Canberra, where I live, winter means dark, cold nights and sunny but brisk days. The nights draw in early and I find myself wanting to curl up with a good book, a fire and my dog at my feet.
Personally I’m not a winter girl. Give me heat and sunshine and warmth any day. But there are blessings that come from Australian winter. It provides relief from the hot summers where the sun is harsh and bright. It provides a time for people to hibernate at home, spending time with their families or having small intimate gatherings with friends. Games nights, simple suppers and good conversations somehow seem more flowing at winter get togethers.
I was invited to one such gathering yesterday to mark the darkness of the winter solstice. Of course the solstice, the shortest day of the year, was last Thursday. But Saturday was close enough to observe and acknowledge the darkness.
Over mulled wine and snacks, our hostess started the proceedings talking about the Christian based Christmas story, not in the biblical sense I’ve had drilled into me over the years, but in the metaphorical sense. You probably know the story…Two average people traveling in winter through the dark and the cold just after the solstice. Looking for shelter from what life had thrown at them. One of them was gestating a baby. Just when they think they won’t find anywhere to stay, they find a place no one would have thought or expected they would. Animals present at the birth. Three wise men followed their intuition (their North Star) and brought gifts.
I loved thinking about how this journey that people around the world know as the story of Jesus’ birth is really just a story outlining the journey that most people experience sometime in their life. Often known as the ‘dark night of the soul’, almost everyone has experiences where they feel they are wandering in the dark. Sometimes those experiences are solitary journeys, but often at least one other is involved with you as you traverse the terrain (even if they aren’t physically present with you). There are points where you just want to stop and rest, and sometimes you find support and help where you least expect it. Often in those dark times, your beliefs and ideals change — you gestate new ideas and come to see yourself over the course of the journey as a new person or with a new aspect on life. Sometimes it seems animals understand you better than people and you may be drawn to a particular animal on your journey. And you always receive gifts and insights if you are willing and open to receiving them.
So taking that metaphor, we then wrote about the dark and what the dark looks like for each of us. What the dark times have taught us. What do we do to embrace the dark? How do we personally banish the dark and bring light into the world?
When we were finished writing we each lit candles to help bring in the light and a few of us shared some thoughts about the dark. It was an uplifting and positive way to acknowledge the darkness in the world outside and the darkness held inside us, and then to call in the intention of light to help illuminate our way. Knowing that in the natural world, once we’ve passed the solstice, the days begin to get longer and warmer and it won’t be long before we’ll be back at the beach or at backyard BBQs.
For me, it was a beautiful reminder again that in every dark situation, there is light to be found. I have been going through a dark period as someone I love dearly had an accident two months ago that has changed our lives. There is nothing worse than the feeling of helplessness when someone you love is hurt and scared and there is nothing you can do for them but be there.
In that being there I have been able to see glimpses of light.
The accident could have been much worse and left my loved one with permanent disabilities. But from the first moment of the accident, as I watched it happen, I knew that there would be positive aspects that we would be able to find as we traversed the darkness.
We have found people who have helped us on the journey, reassuring us even when healing is slow that full recovery is the expected outcome. During this recovery time, we have been able to spend time together that we never expected and which has been a real gift. Reg instinctively knows there is something wrong and gives his love and support in a way that only a dog can give. The accident has been a good reminder for me that no one controls life — at some time everyone gets a curve ball thrown at them. It’s the response to the curve ball that matters. And it has forced me to slow down, be there for her — be fully present in a way that I have wanted to in the past but wasn’t always able to, due to my job or life circumstances.
I would never wish an accident like this on anyone, but I’m grateful for the time we have together and the conversations we’ve had and the realisations we’ve both come to through this journey. Those are the gifts I’ve received. They weren’t delivered by three guys on camels, but this winter solstice, they are just as precious to me.