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Darkness is never just black and white.

Today’s original art for The Phoenix is by Laila Arêde.

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Today is my favorite day of the year, the winter solstice. Here in the northern hemisphere, it’s literally the darkest day of the year – and the moment when the world finally starts getting brighter again.

It’s a moment of rebirth, of trust in cosmic-scale meaning, of hope.

This year, of course, we need all the hope we can get.

Right now is a heartbreaking moment. Nearly everyone I know has lost someone they love this year. And if you haven’t, you’ve almost surely lost all sense of what’s normal.

There are no words to express this level of profound grief. It eats at you 24 hours a day until one day you realize you are a completely different person.

We’ve all had the same realization at some point this year: There is no going back to The Before Times, for any of us.

We are also currently living through the last days of what’s now nearly certain to be the hottest year in recorded human history.

Dwelling even for a moment about the reality of this truth, that we continue barreling towards destruction on a planetary scale – toward disaster, toward profound injustice, toward extinction – is paralyzing for me, even on good days.

Despite all of that – because of all that – I am grateful for the solstice.

This contrast of death and new life, endings and transformational new beginnings, is at the core of what makes us human. We would not and could not exist without the solstice, without the sun and the planet we call home.

We belong to the Earth. And the only way forward is by transformational change.

It’s no accident that dozens of our oldest and most important holidays are held this time of year. It’s no accident our calendar flips over to a new year just after the solstice. Our bodies are programmed to know that this time of year is important.

This time of year, the plants and animals are resting. Seeds from last summer’s sun are buried, waiting, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before warmth will return.

Our ancestors realized the quiet revolution of this moment. Our descendants will too.

We have inherited a broken world, and we are bestowing a future yet to be written.

In the meantime, in this moment, we are alive.

This year, by cosmic coincidence, the two largest planets in our solar system – Jupiter and Saturn – are coming closer together in our night’s sky (tonight!) than they have in 800 years.

If your skies are clear, I greatly encourage you to go outside just after sunset and look just south of the setting sun. You won’t be able to miss it. (And if skies aren’t clear where you are, you can watch photos of the event stream in from skywatchers all over the world.)

Back here on Earth, amid all our struggles, there are better days ahead.

“The future hasn’t already been decided,” Rebecca Solnit wrote soon after the 2018 IPCC report. “There is still a chance to seize the best-case scenario rather than surrender to the worst. … Rather than waiting to see what happens, we can be what happens.”

That’s the same message we need to hear right now, today, in the last days of December 2020.

Allowing our despair to grow unchecked – especially without doing anything about it (talking to a friend, going for a walk, taking a tangible action to repair the world’s brokenness) – is a recipe for powerlessness and collapse. I know. I’ve been there too.

This week, we were introduced to a new slate of climate leadership in the United States. There’s promise in this moment, even though we know they will not achieve everything they need to do.

Now is the time that those of us who care about climate need to prepare to hold these leaders accountable not only just for their promises, but for what science, equity, and justice say are necessary at this moment in history.

If you have an extra few minutes today, I invite you to take a walk outside in Nature – to pause and notice your surroundings, areas of light and darkness, to become aware of your breathing, of your existence as a living being on a living planet.

You have so much to give the world. It’s OK to let your fear and hope coincide – that’s exactly what creates revolutionary change.

On this day of long shadows and dark emotions, remember, nothing is ever just black and white.