Running in the Dark: Solstice

I've been running in the dark these last couple of months. 5:30, 6:00 am, out onto the streets, usually head to toe in black but sporting a red-checkered headlamp hat as the mornings have darkened. In October, this was lovely because it meant I was running into the sunrise. I saw it every day. The last few weeks... well, you go out in the dark and you come home in the dark. Depressing? God, no. I have loved it. My running partner and I, we feel like bad-asses. The other day, we ran the barrier beach the day after a massive, snowy Nor'easter and dodged tumbled rocks that had shifted hundreds of yards in the storm's angry waves. We picked our way around salty lakes that used to be road and hopped over gullies carved by the breaching tempest.  We talked about life, endlessly, deeply, the way running buddies sometimes do. Flying snow blotting out my glasses, fogging up from behind because of the mask, pushing blind and into the wind, the tide still roaring just over the sea wall. The next day, running streets so icy I did a James Brown split on black ice 100 yards from my house. Running in the middle of the road, facing oncoming traffic and diving into snowbanks before oncoming headlights can reach us. It's dark; it's exciting. We're being safe; we're being careful. Safe bad-asses. We like it. And right now, we both need it. 

This morning, we reversed our usual route. Most of the time, we trace a big rectangle through town. We go out by the waterfront, up a short eclectic, house-lined street, and back through the center of town. Today, for no reason whatsoever and without a word, we did the opposite. Started through town, and on the far, short end of our rectangle run, we were heading straight for Nelson Park, a public recreation area with a playground and a beach and a concession stand and a bike path. Mind you, I couldn't see any of that ahead as we passed over the old railway crossing not far from the entrance. All I saw was a silent  darkness that veiled the sea—a gun-metal grey New England deep that takes us from Plymouth all the way back to the Old World. My heart opened. I acknowledged the indifferent blackness and felt suddenly full of grace and awe and gratitude. Darkness, sweet darkness, I love your cold embrace. Life: We are here living it, running into it and through it. But not from it.  

I realized later that a mystic hand must have gently pushed me to that silent prayer of gratitude. Today is the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. It is the day that ancient peoples honored many thousands of years ago with ritual and sacrifice, donning of greens, fires. It is the day that the sun returns once more. From here, each day gets longer by a crow's foot. 

The people who have been living in darkness have seen a great light. 
And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, 
a light has shined. (Matthew 4:14). 

A tiny, innocent light from abject darkness, it is the story of Christmas. It is the story of being human: darkness - light - darkness - light, in never-ending cycle. Know this: The sun rises every day. 

Wait for it. 



Thanks for sticking with me. Here are a few essays of Winter Solstices past: