All around the world, so many of us seem to share an ancient custom of celebrating with light during the darkest time of the year. On or around the winter solstice, we find Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yalda Night, and the list goes on and on. Children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends will gather and light candles, flames, bonfires, and firecrackers - each with their own story, but I always love the fact that, viewed from the heavens, we are all doing the same thing, at more-or-less the same time.
Between fall and winter, typically, has been a time of the greatest fears, the deepest introspections, many of the most solemn rituals, and also the most extreme sacrifices, spanning the globe from ancient Europe to the Americas, and everything in between. For so many people, this has been a time when we ask ourselves: Are we going to come out of these dark times? And in doing so, what part do we play? Must we forgive? Must we remember? Must we learn? Should we rejoice?
The ancient Greeks told of Persephone, the goddess of spring, who was kidnapped by Hades and carried off into the underworld. Her mother, the goddess Demeter, was so distraught by her daughter’s disappearance that the world was plunged into a never-ending drought, where nothing grew and the earth refused to yield its crops. Finally, Hades was forced to let Persephone go. But - much to her mother’s dismay - she was never set entirely free, for she had eaten the seeds of a pomegranate from the world of the dead. Having eaten those seeds, Persephone was now doomed to spend several months out of every year in the underworld, reigning alongside Hades as his queen.
I heard this story recently from a friend of mine, maria, who told us that there are different versions: In one, Persephone was tricked into eating the seeds; and in another version, she ate them by choice. Certainly there will always be as many versions as there are storytellers, but I am so drawn to believe that Persephone ate those seeds on purpose; that she knew exactly what she was doing. As a goddess, as innocent as the mortal poets love to describe her, I want to believe that she knew a thing or two about the world, and fully understood that if you’re going to go to hell, you might as well get something out of it. Spending however long she did in the bowels of existence, I want to give her full credit and believe that she realized that nothing happens by accident, and that letting an experience like this go by with nothing to show for it would be a blunder indeed.
And so we find ourselves in the darkest time of the year. Virus numbers are as bad as ever, and certainly I would love to believe that we are seeing a rising star, a chance for a new dawn, the promise of spring, and a new chance at life as we know it. God knows I’m ready to go back to being a performing musician.
But I want to ask myself, and I urge you to ask as well: What will you take with you from this time?
I have spent the last year with a lot more time on my hands, and a lot less work. I have been going completely crazy from feelings of loneliness, and challenges to find a sense of worth and meaning (with my career largely on hold), not to mention the tensions that we are all facing as we hear the news every day. But I want to challenge myself to find at least one tangible thing that I can take with me - a lesson, a difference, a change, a new practice, a new understanding, a habit, a decision - one pomegranate seed… at least one… that I can swallow with total intention and know that I will continue on my way with something real, that I found in the bowels of my own soul.
Happy New Year Everyone <3