One of the reasons I like measuring my days by the milestones of the ancients (also known as the milestones provided by the universe) is that they are both simple and complex. The solstice itself is a rather simple event. The word is often used to refer to the entire day on which it happens, but the actual solstice takes place in an instant. This year, that instant will take place at 12:16 p.m. (CST), on June 21.
At one specific blip sometime during that minute, the sun will beam directly on the Tropic of Cancer and strike the northern hemisphere of the earth with its most direct rays. In that nanosecond, summer will begin. On the top half of the globe, the sun will shine longer than it will any other day of the year.
Piece of cake. Long day. Summer begins. Tropic of Cancer. We learned all of that in eighth grade biology. But what we didn’t learn in eighth grade is usually so much more profound than what we did. As I’ve watched the solstice pass each year (don’t blink! you’ll miss it!), I’ve incorporated new shades of the meaning it has to offer. The mystical earth and the magical heavens can be our teachers if we let them.
The ancients devised ways to capture this blip of time that passes only once every 365 days. They built monuments to it. They conducted ceremonies for it. Most likely, they built bonfires and danced naked in acknowledgement of this great mystery they might not have fully understood but fully accepted. They might not have been able to launch a space shuttle, but they knew that from this moment each day would shorten just a smidgeon.
I looked up the word “solstice” in the dictionary tonight not expecting to find anything new. Whenever I do that, I always find something new. The second definition read, “a furthest or culminating point; a turning point.”
The solstice isn’t really about the instant of the solstice at all. It’s about the turn. It’s about a shift in direction. It’s about endings and beginnings. It’s about celebrating transformation.
It’s that simple. And it only took me a decade or so to see it.