Gaia’s Got Her Blinker On

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.

Happy Yule!

Last year about this time I was sitting in the dentist’s chair getting my teeth cleaned.   Or perhaps it should more appropriately be called the dental hygienist’s chair.  I only see my dentist for two minutes every six months when he pops in after my cleaning to ask if I’m having any problems with my teeth.  He’s a jovial kind of guy, a quick hello, a short joke, a few jibs and jabs about current events, and then he’s off to the next cubicle.  I’m not even sure he’s a dentist.  I think he may just network really well and run a teeth-cleaning business.  He’s like a dental pimp with a stable of cute girls with sharp, metal instruments.

Anyhoo, at this particular visit a year ago, something interesting happened.  As Dr. Rodney Dangerfield was finishing his obligatory glance at my pearlies, he stood up to leave the room and gave a cheerful, “Merry Christmas!”  It was so cheerful, in fact, that I think there actually was at least one “Ho” thrown in for good measure.

I smiled back and said with an equal amount of holiday cheer, “Thank you!  Happy Hanukkah!”

The continuous advertisement of his own perfect masticators ended abruptly.  He literally frowned, a playful frown, but a frown nonetheless.   “Uh, . . . well, I’m not Jewish.”

I hesitated not even a second.  “That’s okay.  I’m not Christian, but I took no offense.”

He mumbled something about a root canal and scooted out of the room.

And here we are again, a year later, and here comes the great Merry Christmas debate one more time.   I’ve seen some ugly scenes over the last few years regarding this issue.  A woman at the post office two years ago responded to a “Happy Holidays!” with a venomous “WE say Merry Christmas!”  It was the angriest Merry Christmas I’ve ever heard, and it almost ruined the season for me.  I don’t begrudge anybody their Merry Christmas; I just like to be inclusive.

I have my personal feelings about the religiousness of the holiday season, and I’m savvy enough to recognize that so does everyone else.  Debating the “reason for the season” is rather pointless.  For you, it might be the birth of a baby 2,000 years ago (whom most theologians agree was probably born sometime in August).  For another it might be a Festival of Lights.  For some, it might be the winter solstice and the return of the sun.

Whatever your personal reason, I say offer the greeting of your choice, as long as you do so with joy in your voice, love in your heart, . . . and no point to prove.

Feliz Navidad!