Yesterday was the summer solstice.  I’ve written before of how important the solstice is to me.  For all the years of my life my parents have hosted a party from 9 to midnight on the night of December 21st (awesome when it’s a Thursday, less awesome when it’s a Sunday).  As midnight nears, a friend, the co-host, leads us in an ancient Mayan ceremony to welcome the light back.  This tradition gives me goosebumps every single time I experience it, and a huge room full of people holding candles does seem to ward off winter’s intense darkness for at least an evening.

I am fiercely attached to the winter solstice.  Not so the summer solstice.  In fact, I find it a little sad.  It marks, after all, the slow rotation back towards darkness.  As of today, the days are getting shorter again.  I know, I know: buzzkill.  Believe me, if I could somehow change this orientation of mine, this way I lean always towards melancholy, I would.

I am often preemptively sad, well before I need to be.  And yes, this can cloud the brightness of even the most luminous moments.  Why on earth can’t I just relax into right now, these swollen days of both sunshine and sunlight, these happy children, this relative ease?  I don’t know, and I hate that I can’t.  I am simply too aware of the shadow behind that swollenness, too achingly conscious of the turning of the earth, of the hovering darkness on the horizon.

Often I am jealous of those who can walk through this world without being so regularly brought to their knees by both its grandeur and its heartbreak.  I wish – desperately, wholly, wildly – that I could just sit and enjoy a day of my life.  One day.  I wish I could sit by a pool, giggling at my children jumping off a diving board, a glass of white wine in my hand and a dear friend at my side.  And if you were at that pool, that’s what you would see.  That’s what it looks like from outside.  But inside there is an essential crack in my spirit that yawns open, more narrowly or more widely depending on the moment.  This crack – this wound – is always there.

I promise I’m not a hugely depressing person.  I’m not even depressed.  I’ve been there, believe me, and this isn’t it.  I’m actually a fairly happy person.  A new friend (hi Jane!) who knew me here before she knew me in person even remarked that I was much funnier in person than she expected.  I try to keep my heartbreak to myself.  But the truth is that even on days like yesterday, a day as gorgeous and perfect a summer day as I can imagine, the longest day of the year, there is a kernel of sadness buried deep inside my experience that I can’t ignore.

And there is still so much here I do not understand.  These are my favorite lines in Adrienne Rich’s deeply moving poem that I publish every winter solstice.  No matter how much I struggle and think and unpack and write, there is still so much that is unclear to me, both within and without, so much that I find perplexing, sad, complicated.  What I am beginning to see that it is in these knots of tangled meaning that my life actually exists.  Certainly they are shot through with strands of radiant joy, that only revealed themselves once I started really paying attention.   I’m slowly realizing that my hope that someday I’ll be sailing smoothly down some clearly-defined path is simply naive.

3 months ago I said this:  “I realize, again, fiercely, is that this is how I want to live:  in the right now of my life with a broken heart.  I want this, in full knowledge of the pain it carries, far more than I want to keep hiding from my life.”  Reading this avowal is a reminder of something I do know, somewhere deep inside myself.  On a day like this when I want to simply enjoy, it is easy to forget these commitments I make, to myself, to my family, to those I love.  But I won’t.  I will pull out my camera, take some pictures of this glorious day, of my alarmingly tall and lanky and funny and sad children, surrender to the knot of sadness that will gather in my heart as the sun sets, and acknowledge this is what it is to be me in this world.  It just is.

11 thoughts on “Solstice”

  1. Beautiful! Gosh, you describe so well that feeling that I’ve never been able to put words to – but it drives Katie (and me…) crazy that I experience it – not being able to fully fully fully enjoy a wonderful moment for the knowledge that its being there also means it must end. I love Christmas, but what I really love is December 22nd and 23rd, by the time Christmas eve rolls around I’m already focused on the passing of Christmas and the long wait until the following Dec. 22nd. Somehow, I have the same experience during great music performances – I want them to end at the peak of enjoyment, just so I can be released from the dread of knowing it will end. An odd orientation. So wonderful to see it expressed so well in your words. Thank you.

  2. We celebrated Midsummer Day yesterday, and as my husband and I relaxed after the kids were in bed, with our mead and strawberries & cream, I realized that we weren’t just celebrating this day. We were thanking God for the days that we have had so far, celebrating the summer that has been, as well as the summer that is yet to come.

    It was a long, dreary winter, and, quite frankly, a dreary spring with more rain than any two springs could need. Summer has been patchy, with some sun but an equal amount of rain. It’s been easy for me to be in a funk. Yesterday was glorious with sunshine, and I did everything I could just to soak that up and treasure it with our simple celebration, so that when the grey days come back, I have that memory to comfort me.

  3. I don’t usually think about deep things like this but admit that yesterday I thought about the solstice (your influence on me?) and felt a teeny bit sad. I think in large part because I felt I should be marking it somehow, rather than fighting with my children to get to bed so that I could work. I should have been sipping champagne on the porch with my husband or something, right? Ah, well – as always, gorgeous words. I think now whenever there is a solstice, I automatically think of you! P.S. You are not alone — see today’s NYTimes article on the summer solstice and adopting a glass is half full vs. half empty approach (your words much more poetic of course!)

  4. Wow: “Often I am jealous of those who can walk through this world without being so regularly brought to their knees by both its grandeur and its heartbreak.” I’ve said this to my friends and lovers so many times. But those people keep telling me it’s what makes me most special. Must be true, then, because that’s my reaction to reading this post. I now thing of it this way for myself: being aware of life’s shadow side may make me blink in the sunlight, but then to me it’s all so much the brighter. Namaste.

  5. I look forward to your solstice post every six months. In fact, as I watched the sun dip below the trees yesterday, I thought of you. Yesterday I was having coffee at my local coffeeshop, and across the street I noticed a group of women engaged in some sort of ceremony. It being New Mexico, I didn’t think much of it (these things are so commonplace here). But after reading your piece it dawns on me that it was probably some kind of solstice celebration. Anyway, I feel the same sort of melancholy on June 21, knowing that it’s “only downhill from here,” so to speak. I admonish myself for the same “preemptive sadness.”

  6. I’m so glad you’ve embraced your own enormous heart. Whenever I question my own deep connection to sadness I remind myself how grateful I am to feel the ache of awe. Can you imagine how empty life would be without it?

  7. Ah, so beautiful. Your writing always opens my heart.

    I love “it just is.” I am starting to think that this is the key to life. I always thought it would be more dramatic, but I think you’ve nailed it.

  8. Lindsey,

    I think we all take our gifts for granted, because they come so naturally to us. Your astuteness at recognizing and naming situations, feelings, and yourself is emotional intelligence to the extreme.

    who knew me here before she knew me in person even remarked that I was much funnier in person than she expected. –

    I absolutely expect this if a time comes to meet you. (again!) I used to be nervous that if something happened to me, and all of my writing was found, It would all be explained because I was so secretly unhappy. I have never been particularly unhappy, but I think i have processed THAT PART of me on paper. In our every day lives, there often isn’t time for our sadness, melancholy, reflection. We are able to live our happier selves, and , some of us have to find a place for the other part of us, rather than covering it up, pretending it isn’t there. I wonder if you are able to be happy and funny in life, because you are able to express the melancholy you in your writing?

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