Inconvenient News, A Good Darkness, & Winter Solstice
“No Negative News” in this morning’s New York Times addresses China’s attempt to quash the original news about coronavirus. “[O]fficials got to work suppressing the inconvenient news and reclaiming the narrative, according to confidential directives sent to local propaganda workers and news outlets,” which are, of course, only being revealed now. “To people at home and abroad, Dr. Li’s death showed the terrible cost of the Chinese government’s instinct to suppress inconvenient information.”
There’s been a lot of inconvenient information in 2020, hasn’t there? And, still, despite the horrendous cost of the misinformation that has overflowed from the federal government to our populace, that same government continues its lies, deceptions, and manipulations.
In this morning’s Times, the Editorial Board writes, “Corruption and abuse of power are the most urgent issues in need of addressing.” Certainly, the colossal self-serving actions of the executive branch need some reining in. Congress will attend to that, no doubt, in the near future.
Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice — the longest night of the year. “The longest night of all is hundreds of miles north of the Arctic Circle, at the northernmost tip of the country. In Utqiagvik, Alaska, the sun set in November, buried beneath the horizon, not to rise for 65 nights. And even here, one of the remotest places on earth, the coronavirus is spreading.”
Despite that inconvenient news — how did coronavirus even get there?! — I like the darkest night. It gives me perspective. “The great irony of winter is that the moment darkness is greatest is also the moment light is about to return. Each year the winter solstice comes with the promise that the next day will be brighter.”
Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor says, “I’ve stopped trying to handle the darkness. I let the darkness handle me instead. Most of the time all it wants to do is hold me for a while — slow me down, keep me from running, cover me up long enough to remember that being in the dark doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. It means I’m alive, and this is part of the deal.”
Darkness, Beloved, is indeed part of the deal of being human. Brother Guy Consolmagno, the director of the Vatican Observatory says, “It is an interesting metaphysical as well as astronomical truth, that it is only when you have good darkness that you can see the faint lights, whether it is faint stars, or the little points of light, the thousand points of light that bring us hope even in darkness.”
And what, exactly, might constitute a good darkness? Well, here are a couple of ways to consider that. In an article entitled, “In 2020, These Things Came Out on Top,” the authors cite “rescue animals, guns, edibles, streamers, screen time, messy people, therapy, and rotten bananas.” More than 19 million handguns were purchased this year. I might deem some of these on-top things good — rotten bananas that lead to banana bread, absolutely — but guns? Not so much. Someone else might strongly disagree with me.
Here’s another way to parse a good darkness. These are the “Words of the Year.” Black Lives Matter, Blursday, Circuit Breaker (for the stock market) & K-shaped recovery, Contact Tracing, Doomscrolling & Joyscrolling, Essential Workers, Flatten the Curve & Disinfect & “Wear a mask” & 6 feet & Ventilator, Frontline Workers, Hydroxychloroquine, Mail-in Ballot, Pod & Bubble & Quaranteam, P.P.E. & Masks & N95 & Shortage & Trash Bag, Remote Learning, Social Distancing & 6 feet away & Bubble & quar, Super-spreader, Unprecedented & The New Normal & Uncertain Times & Trying Times & Before Times, Virtual Happy Hour, Voter Fraud, Wildfires, Zoom & Zoombombing & Zoom University & Zoom Dating & Zoom Birthday & Zumping & Zoom Shirt & Zoom Mom & Zoom Town & Zoom Fatigue.
Most of these are ordinary words that have taken on particularity in The Age of Coronavirus which they will lose again once these trying times pass in the face of the vaccination and group immunity. Again, I think some of these are wretched ideas. Doomscrolling? And, honestly, Zoom modified by anything. There will, of course, be those who dissent.
Nicholas Kristof spoke with progressive evangelical pastor Jim Wallis. Rev. Wallis notes, “I would say that faith can lead either to deeper reflection or easy certainty; I prefer the former.” Me, too. As a minister myself I believe strongly that faith that comes with easy certainty is no faith at all. Real faith comes hand-in-glove with doubt. Doubt is what keeps faith a deeper reflection. There are probably a legion of pastors who would toss me in the dungeon forever over this one. It’s alright; they wouldn’t be the first ones who wanted to, nor will they be the last.
The thing is, it’s not those who agree with me — although I like most of them well enough — that keep me engaged in life, Beloved. It’s those who disagree with me. It’s those I do not understand. It’s those who challenge my complacency. It’s those who insist that some things — maybe even me — need to change that keep me vitally alive. If you’ll take a moment to reflect, you might find that the same is true of you.
A good darkness, Beloved, is a perfect place for Solstice, the moment when the light begins to return. Whether we can see the evidence of it yet with our own eyes or not.
The Editors of The New York Times invited readers to write in to suggest “One Good Thing About 2020.” They received more than 1,500 responses. Here are two I particularly appreciated.
David Barnert wrote from Albany, NY, “We learned what we can do without.”
I would add, and it was far more than we’d ever have thought at the beginning of this year. Capacity is always a valuable learning, Beloved, especially since we are taught to undervalue our own.
Laura Lind wrote from Pittsburgh, PA, “The foundational principle of improv is ‘yes, and’ — accepting the reality your scene partner establishes and adding to it, furthering the scene. Performing in improv comedy troupes for most of my life has cemented this concept in my brain.
“Yet last March, all my improv-loving brain could think was ‘no.’ No, I can’t work. No, I can’t socialize. No, the world can’t function.
“Unlike me, the world accepted this uncertain new reality and said, ‘Yes, and.’ Yes, you can shop and pick up groceries curbside. Yes, you can use the internet and work, worship, be entertained, and reconnect with old friends and relatives. Yes, people will help those in need and create therapeutic drugs and a vaccine.
“The tragic realities of 2020 are undeniable. But the world has thought outside the box in astounding ways to navigate this unfamiliar life. The year 2020 epitomizes ‘yes, and.’
“Yes, we did.
“And we will.”
Ms. Lind is, of course, talking about perseverance.
The OED says persevere comes to us via Late Middle English from Old French perseverer, and originally from Latin perseverare which means to abide by strictly. They parse it as: from per- = thoroughly + severus = severe.
As usual, I see the word a little differently. I’d parse it as per se = itself + verus = the truth, so to persevere means to stay with it till you get to the truth.
This is the purpose of a good darkness, Beloved — to persevere in the face of inconvenient news, or, if you simply can’t, to allow the rest of us to help you persevere until you can. To persevere in seeking the light amidst the darkness until seeking turns into finding, and your ‘yes, and’ is restored once again.
Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her essays address the intersection of spirituality and culture. Her website is susancorso.com.