I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Dark days, long nights

An earlier Christmas Eve

I believe I took this picture on Christmas Eve back in 2016, which fell on a Saturday. Although it doesn't specifically say where it was taken, I suspect this was Lake Padden on one of our usual Saturday walks. This year, Christmas Eve is also on a Saturday, and given the forecast for the next week, it might actually look something like this. We have a patch of very cold and snowy weather ahead, but by the time we get to the weekend, and a possible repeat of this scene, it will be much warmer. Snow takes a bit longer to clear from the frosty trails, however.

Going back through my pictures of previous years, I see that there are plenty of them with snow, much of it still hanging around during the high mountain summer hikes we used to take each year. And there's even a few that I took in the wintertime on snowshoe trips, which I haven't attempted in years. I'm beginning to feel like those days might be behind me, but you just never know for sure. There are other Trailblazers still going up there at this time of year. I don't even consider myself to be an active Senior Trailblazer any more. Just Melanie and I, and sometimes a few others, make it onto those old favorite trails together. The pandemic changed my desire to gather in large groups, and I am still feeling a bit vulnerable and unwilling to catch one of the many viruses making people sick these days. I'll continue to mask and keep my distance.
The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something joyfully inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly masterfully extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory.—Gary Zukav

And yes, the winter solstice, just a few days away. After we reach that dark night, the light begins to return. This year, the solstice occurs here in my little corner of the world this coming Wednesday at 1:48pm. Today the sun will set at 4:14pm. Even  when it's a sunny day, the temperature never gets too warm, and we have already had much cooler fall days than usual. I'm not sure what the winter will be like, but I will do my best to stay warm when outdoors. I worry a little about the wildlife.

By and large, however, life is pretty good. I have a warm and safe place to live, and unless we lose power, we can stay very comfortable in our little apartment. That's not true for so many people these days. I look at the citizens of Ukraine trying to maintain some semblance of normal life as they are continually being bombed; I see the homeless people all over here in Bellingham. They have mostly stopped sleeping on the streets as the weather changes, but I don't think they will have a safe and comfortable place to live in the long run. When I was young, I never saw such scenes, but then again I wasn't paying much attention. And there were so many fewer people: the worldwide population has more than tripled since then. The world population was 2.3 billion when I was born; now it is more than 8 billion.

It's the season when many of us take the time to recollect earlier days and remember what no longer exists. I lost my parents when they were much younger than I am now, and I lost my two children long, long ago. Friends who are my age are beginning to pass into new stages of life, and sometimes are passing away. I learned yesterday that one of my old hiking buddies has died; he was ill with Alzheimer's Disease, which came on rather suddenly and took him down that awful trajectory of loss quickly. He was 77, but he went from being an active senior to a memory care home in just a few years. He was a gentle and fun person to be around and told jokes that were often really funny and had us all in stitches as we walked. Steve will be missed.

I do have to remind myself that this is the normal path of one's life: a newborn becomes an octogenarian in the blink of an eye. Well, eighty years isn't exactly a blink, but it does seem like it when I look back on my life. Since we don't live all that long, it's important to take stock and appreciate it while we still have the ability to do so. The one constant in life is change, and as I sit in meditation in the morning, watching my breath, I try to remember that each moment is precious and irreplaceable. Sometimes routine and habit get in the way of that remembrance, but just a quick perusal of the news of the world can snap me out of it. 

Snagged from the internet awhile back (click to enlarge)            

I found this cartoon one day many years ago, and it was so profound I decided to save it for a special occasion. Here it is, and here we are, together at the end of 2022, looking ahead to the bright future when the butterfly emerges from its cocoon and we begin another journey around the sun, with flowers and summer and falling leaves and friendship and love everywhere we look.

You, my dear friends, comfort me in myriad ways, just by being there, and for sharing your life with me. I am truly blessed that I was born when the world was beginning to get connected and that the entire world, with all its joy and sorrow, is within my reach. My heart is full, and I will approach this day as if it were the only one I have (because indeed it is) and will love as much as I can, and laugh as much as I can.

My partner still sleeps quietly next to me and gives me comfort just by being there. My tea is long gone and the world beckons to me to rise out of bed and start my brand-new irreplaceable day. I wish all of you, who are so dear to me, the very best of holiday seasons and lots and lots of laughter. Be well until we meet again next week.


Rita said...

Love-love-love that cartoon and totally agree!!
Have a wonderful day, my friend. :)

John's Island said...

Pearls before Swine is absolutely perfect. And another piece of perfection: “The one constant in life is change.” Thank you for another fine post. Take care, be well, and stay warm as we move through the holiday season. I’m joining you in looking forward to the butterfly emerging from its cocoon!

ApacheDug said...

Good morning DJan. Well, your Sunday morning ruminations couldn't have come at a better time, I feel a little guilty admitting this but was watching the Sunday news shows and needed an excuse to turn them off. This was a peaceful, introspective read. I'm sorry about your friend Steve, but also like how you take little for granted. When I awoke this morning and saw the weather (it snowed overnight here in Pittsburgh and currently we've got wind chills of 15F outside) I just felt very fortunate, having my own warm apartment. Meanwhile... well, you know. Anyway, I enjoyed your post today (I always do) and hope you have a healthy weekend ahead. PS. And yes, the cartoon strip says it all!

Elephant's Child said...

Love and laughter are the most excellent building blocks for life aren't they? Thank you, as always, for this beautiful, thought provoking, gratitude inducing post.

Rian said...

Great post, DJan... and great cartoon. It's true that we know so little as to why we're here and if there's a purpose to our lives. I wonder where we were before and what lies ahead when our time here is up. But the fact that we do wonder this is somewhat telling. I agree with EC that love and laughter seem to be the best way to get through life... and sharing.

ApacheDug said...

I know I already commented here, but I very much enjoyed what Rian had to say. She and EC are very right, I just wish I shared Rian's wonder of a before and after.

Arkansas Patti said...

Love the cartoon and try to live by the last line. The beauty of laughter is that it is free and has no unwanted side effects outside of a few laugh lines.
Am also grateful for the warmth I too often take for granted and the full belly after a meal. Wish I could spread that blanket of warmth and fullness over all those suffering now.

Anvilcloud said...

We are pretty fortunate to live when we do. Enjoy the week, the solstice, and Christmas.

Gigi said...

My heartfelt condolences on the passing of Steve. Alzheimer's is a terrible, terrible disease.

Merry Christmas to you and Smart Guy. Sending you virtual hugs and love this holiday season.

Marie Smith said...

I am happy to see the solstice this week and the return of the sun. Have a wonderful week, Jan. Blessings to you and SG.

Linda Reeder said...

Ah, yes, the Solstice, an important day for us northlanders. Another reason to celebrate the season.
I am grateful that I can still be an active grandmother and mother for my family and a giving friend to those near and dear to me. Giving brings joy. Aging will bring changes, but we will try to adjust, and share joy and laughter where and when we can.
Have a joyful Christmas week!

Red said...

It is the time of year when we can look forward to things. As you mention ...more light...new growth and hope. Hope for another year. Yes, know how time flies. The Micro manager and I were talking about it at supper tonight.

Linda Myers said...

I am always jealous when you get snow while we're in Arizona. Almost the soltice!

Glenda Beall said...

Here in the Atlanta area we have had nasty weather for a good while. This coming weekend will be very very cold here.But I am using this time to reach out to old friends, to read my older journals and see where I was twenty or more years ago. To cheer me up and make me stop vegging here in my little apartment, I am thinking about the new year. With a knee surgery looming in February, I have work to do to prepare myself and that is what I am thinking about now. Hoping for a positive outcome that will let me walk and exercise again without lots of pain. I signed up for an online writing class in March. As long as I have something to look forward to, I feel much better. Thanks for a thoughtful post today and although you had a big birthday, it is just a number and you don't have to be shut down because of it.

gigi-hawaii said...

Take care and God Bless.

Buz said...

This is a beautiful post, Jan. I'm still struggling to gain a deeper personal understanding of the nature of time, so you caught my attention when you said change is a constant in life. It seems the existence of everything in our universe has a dependency on time. A side effect is that everything is dynamic, there is nothing (at any level) that can avoid perpetual change, and the appearance of being stationary is never more than an illusion. Perhaps the same is true of death: just an illusion.

Time is real (and relative), but our concepts of past and future are illusionary constructs. We don't "leave" the past behind us; rather, the forces of life and change continually contribute to the present. The present, or the now, is all we have ever had, all we will ever have, and all that exists. The present is life itself, and it's all we need. The past is our name for the observable evidence of changes that have contributed to the present, that have become integrated into the present. The future is what we call our imaginings of changes that have yet to contribute to the present. Our minds, being limited, must organize these observances and imaginings into a linear/tabular format, layer upon layer, year over year, so that we can "see" times past and future (neither of which actually exist).

Synonymous terms to some extent: the present; the now; life; change; time. And I don't see why you wouldn't add love and laughter after reading that wonderful Pearls Before Swine strip.

No need to worry about me. I'm probably just going off the deep end again. And I'm laughing at myself, I assure you.

Margaret said...

Wise words about the cycles of life. I'm not enjoying this getting older and losing friends and family stage. But it is normal and natural. Sigh.