Haven’t we all heard this proverbial metaphor all our lives? In fact, it dates back through centuries and is suspected to be first penned by Thomas Fuller in the 1700’s. But is it true? Is there any astronomical reason for this saying? True, there are less electric lights while people are sleeping, and the smog and dust in our air settles in the night air granting a better view of the sky, but no, not a shred of evidence is behind this common phrase. Yet despite the lack of scientific support we keep saying it for it lends much needed morale when times are bleaker than we can bear. This week more than any other this year I have thought much of darkness, whether it creeps in slowly or spills out all at once, it presents itself.
From the start of man our need for light has pervaded our discourse. Stonehenge, thought to be constructed anywhere between 3000 BC to 2000 BC, follows the sun’s progress, and stands, as so many other prehistoric monuments, as a reminder that the fading winter light will return; as sure as the Winter Solstice will arrive on December 21st we know the Summer Solstice is only six months away.
Churchill too echoed this refrain when he called England to arms to defend the country against the invading Nazi Germany: the darkest hour. In his iconic WWII speech the Prime Minister lent courage in the dark days until those rosy fingers branched across their bleak horizon:
“We shall go on till the end. We shall fight in France. We shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches and we shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We will never surrender.”
To battle that form of evil did not happen quickly and only came about through the collective efforts of all. In these dark days perhaps we need to gain strength from those who captured the hearts and minds generations ago. The spirit to persevere takes many forms, all of them classified heroic when faced with sorrows and tragedies such as the school shooting in Newtown… Their unsinkable will to continue astonishes me…
On this Solstice, the shortest day and the longest night, we will burn fires, light strings of light, place candles across our tables, to foster the strength to carry on. For carry on we must. For we will never surrender.
The Solstice reminds us the darkness will not last forever. In the meantime, we find solace in each other, and in the days ahead, and remember, “When it’s Darkest, Men see the Stars” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).