God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us, in the dreariest and most dreaded moments, can see a possibility of hope. ~ Maya Angelou
1-1-21…. It had a lilting ring to it. I felt a momentary buoyancy of heart as we rung in the new year. Just about everyone on the planet wanted 2020 to be done. Over. But by 1-21-21, the day after inauguration day, the first day of January seemed merely another inflection point in this time between times, in this interim.
In February, our winter of pandemic uncertainty – a bleak time in our history– stretches on.
For days, during the Christmas season, a hymn inspired by Christina Rosetti’s haunting poetry and equally haunting music of composer Gustav Holst, kept playing in my head. The hymn, from 1906, existed before the 1919 pandemic. Imagine. A century later, the words reverberate across the frozen landscape:
In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak mid-winter, long ago.
It’s a favorite Christmas carol, but it never felt more poignant than Christmas 2020. The holidays are long past, yet like Groundhog Day, the song keeps playing these winter days.
Last year was exhausting. By Christmastime I’d lapsed into the common search for comfort and solace that gripped many Americans. As I browsed gift catalogs, I remember stopping to laugh – and reflect – on the tee shirt that said: All I want is to bake cookies and watch Christmas movies. It caught my eye, because that’s how I’ve been feeling during this pandemic…and even through the last four years.
Never have I experienced the desire to escape into sappy movies so much as in these crazy times.
In this interim – this anxious time – sappy seemed to fit. I even imagined my own take on Clement Clark Moore’s hundred-year-old St. Nicholas poem. Twas the night before Solstice, when all through the house, Christmas music was playing, tuning out any mouse. “It’s a Wonderful Life” once again topped the fave movie list, as pandemic-weary folks longed for pre-Covid bliss.
I continued: Yes, It’s a Wonderful Life streamed across movie screens, it’s perennial message resounding – love, hope, purpose – think what it means. In a year of pandemic, especially so, as dark turns to light, may our hearts find a glow.
I mused about the much heralded ‘Christmas Star’: The year 2020 marked an astronomical wonder. Two planets conjunct on Solstice. What splendor! If only we could see it, this bright Christmas light. Perhaps it might lead us through our long winter night.
Our pandemic year – February 2020 to February 2021 – seems like a long winter night, like a recurring dream. It’s been a long interim of uncertainty, of apprehension— times of waiting, plodding, not knowing what’s ahead in uncharted territory.
Of course life is filled with interims, times between times. The word is simple enough. Interim marks a transitional or temporary period between events. We navigate countless interims: the time between pregnancy and birth, birth and death, engagement and wedding, childhood and adulthood.
During this pandemic, we must deal with the time between disease and healing, the time spent waiting for a vaccine, wondering when this will all be over. We hope for the time of masking and social distancing to become a distant memory. We long for reconnecting with our loved ones, being able to hug one another again.
Many interims overlap. I think of the interims of seasons: Advent to Christmas, Winter Solstice to Spring Equinox, the 12 days of Christmas to Epiphany on January 6. In America we have four-year interims between presidential elections. Then there is the tender interim between the election and inauguration.
Some interims inspire reflection, as in the tradition of Advent before Christmas or Lent before Easter. Some inspire wondering what will be – like our recent time between election and inauguration. Some events superimpose upon an interim, extraordinary events, such as the invasion of the nation’s capitol building on January 6.
What do you do during a transition? We’re navigating our Covid transition simultaneously with this tumultuous political transitional time. Do you look for epiphanies?
The Day of the Feast of Epiphany is the 12th day of Christmas when Christians celebrate the journey of the Three Wise Men, the Magi, who followed the star to Bethlehem where the Christ child was born.
I like to think that we each have our own star search, our personal journey to find joy and as the magi, to discover an awakening, new insight, new possibilities for life.
Joy and light…
As 2020 dragged on with virus woes, I began noticing the word joy turning up in news features, magazine themes and in conversations. I noticed the word light, as well.
In December, on the day the Pfizer vaccine was approved, I was getting my hair cut – very short – on the off-chance that we’d face another stay-at-home directive and need to hunker down again, as we did in the early days of the virus. My hairdresser talked about seeing the light at end of the tunnel, echoing the voices of newscasters that day, with the Pfizer announcement. We agreed, though, that it remained a very long tunnel; and the light was just a glimmer at that point. But the hope in our hearts came forward at last.
Only the heart knows how to find what is precious, wrote Fyodor Dostoyevsky. During our Covid-19 interim, we’ve been discovering, more and more, the things that bring joy and light to our hearts. That, to me, is the greatest blessing to be gained from this long pandemic winter.
The groundhog saw his shadow this year on Groundhog Day. The polar vortex settled in, dumping extreme cold temperatures into our days…and snow on snow on snow…even as the days gradually brightened. In this bleak mid-winter 2021 we search for new possibilities. We look for the light…for the rainbow in the clouds.
Now what do we do with this January 6 day of Epiphany in 2021? In my mind, the day will forever be associated with the storming of the U.S. Capitol. The memory will forever remain, along with the hope that it may also be remembered as a day of reckoning, and of awakening on the part of Americans on what is most precious in our democracy.
Strangely – in this interim – renowned actor Christopher Plummer, who played Captain von Trapp in the Sound of Music (a movie I’ve enjoyed writing about through the years), passed away. The beloved film greatly affected me when I was just starting out in my adult life. I drew solace from its positive, uplifting theme…that you can find joy and hope amid heartbreaking circumstances.
The musical was based on the story of the von Trapp family singers, escaping Austria during the Nazi advancement into the country during World War II, a war that involved much sacrifice for my parents’ generation. I imagine I’m not the only one who thought of the Sound of Music at Plummer’s passing. .
We remember Captain von Trapp and family singing Edelweiss (when in the movie, they crossed over the mountains into Switzerland). The alpine flower was a symbol of courage, and an homage to their Austrian homeland during a dark time in history. In the aftermath of January 6, during this crisis in our democracy, I think of our homeland. I think of Edelweiss: Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, Bloom and grow forever…Edelweiss, Edelweiss. Bless my homeland forever.
This winter, this pandemic winter, my hope is that the bleakness, the snow on snow, may transform…blossoming into new possibilities for all of us.
A memory came to me, as I watched the seige on the capitol on January 6. I time-traveled back to my senior year at Ithaca High School. Our class of 1961 – having saved up funds for four years – journeyed via a long bus ride to Washington D.C. for our class trip. You can imagine tourists and visitors and countless class tripsters heading to DC for historical and cultural purposes. But you cannot imagine – until now – what we witnessed on January 6.
Our 60th reunion is this year. We’d recently received the announcement for a summer celebration. I’d gotten out my treasured panoramic, framed photograph of our entire class posing on a lawn with the capitol building – citadel of American democracy – looming in the background on a beautiful day in May.
I wish I could remember more of our trip. But what I do remember is the awesome privilege I felt to make this pilgrimage with my classmates. Those were the brief days of Camelot (as historians have characterized the presidency of John F Kennedy). While I studied education in college, I recall being intrigued with the idea of being in government or foreign service. How amazing, for example, to be an ambassador for our country. I think about the challenges government servants face in today’s world.
My text trip to D.C. would be after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon in 2001. Our daughter and son-in-law were living in VA, where he was stationed in the Marine Corps at Quantico. Our DC visit was solemn. Witnessing the damage to the building, being in the city at that time, gave me a renewed reverence for our American experiment.
The Pentagon attack was by foreign terrorists. Despite such events, I would never have imagined something so unthinkable as the home-grown seige of January 6. That day I grieved for all the legislators, the capitol police, the myriad building staffers, the journalists. And I’m grieving for everyday Americans across the land.
Reading the tea leaves…
On Presidents’ Day I enjoyed a cup of tea, the bag bearing a relevant tag quote:
Re-examine all you have been told…Dismiss what insults your soul. – Walt Whitman
So that’s my intention. A renewal of heart. Never mind grieving, I plan to look for the winter rainbow, to turn toward the light that begins within. I look to catch a glimpse of new possibilities each day of snow on snow – willing the blossoms to bloom and grow.
This week a couple of contrasting interims came to mind that we often use for life metaphors. The first is the time between launch and landing. NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance (named aptly for launching last July mid-pandemic) stuck the landing after six months en route to the red planet. The second relates to the dreaded interim of power outages: The time between power out and power coming on. As Michigan residents, we’ve experienced countless power outages, and so we empathize with Texans enduring dark days, waiting for power and light to come back online, waiting for groceries, waiting for drinking water.
How do we find the joy in stormy times? In this winter of winters, may we hold on to the warmth and light that will be coming. May we heal the fractures that insult the soul. Above all, may we each – in our personal sphere – carry forward the moments of joy we find…the glow of a winter rainbow.
Today I see the possibility of hope in our nation’s youth. On Inauguration Day 2021, Amanda Gorman – America’s first youth laureate poet– reminded us: There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.