Sunshine doesn't fix everything
My Why audio version of this blog available here.
21st June, also known as last Tuesday, is the summer solstice, which also means the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere (daylight hours wise, we don’t get extra time or anything). And therefore, in the Southern Hemisphere it’s the first day of winter and their shortest day of the year.
Apparently our two solstices each year, one in the winter and one in the summer, occur when the tilt of Earth's axis is most inclined towards or away from the sun. So on Tuesday the UK enjoyed roughly 17 hours of daylight with the sun rising around 4.49am and setting at 9.32pm. And on Tuesday night I took a photo at 9:38pm in my garden, and it was indeed still light.
9:38pm Tuesday 21 June 2022 - longest day of the year
Whenever I think about daylight hours changing it reminds me of when we had two Kenyan pastors staying with us a few years ago on their first trip to the UK. As it was August it was still light in the evenings and out of everything they saw during their time with us, including a moving canal bridge and robots that milked cows, one of the things that most fascinated them was daylight late into the evenings. I didn’t understand why until they told me that in Kenya the sun rises at around 6am, and sets around 6pm, every day of the year with little change due to their proximity to the equator. Where was that kind of useful lesson when I was in Geography at school?! This made me realise why in some counties it was so much easier to tell the time just by looking at the sky, plus they see the sun a lot more than we do.
So on Tuesday, as we enjoyed a long day of light, which I guarantee few people stopped to appreciate fully, including me, using the extra light to be busy at something no doubt instead, I was thinking on whether this long day was good or bad news for most people.
It might seem like a day to celebrate, more daylight, what's not to love, right? But it actually signals the moment the sun's path stops moving northward and the start of days becoming steadily shorter, culminating in the shortest day of the year on 21 December, or the winter solstice.
As a side note, apparently the term ‘solstice’ derives from the Latin, meaning "sun standing still", and some people use the term ‘sunturn’ to describe it, which I quite liked. Some astrologers say the sun appears to ‘stand still’ on the horizon, before starting off again in the reverse direction.
So, does the longest day bring you a smile or a sigh?
I think the gut reaction for some in the UK is; ‘Nooooooo!’, because we’ve only just arrived in the sunny weather and the idea of things starting to move towards winter are just a bit demoralising, despite the fact we have a good few months before that happens. It means we’re officially in, or heading into summer, which is great, but at the same time makes us aware that the next season is autumn, a pretty but tricksy month that, while we’re gazing at the beautiful leaves on the ground, sneaks us into winter.
I have to admit when I hear the words 'longest day' something in me immediately thinks about ‘patience’.
Patience is something I feel like I’ve had, lost, studied, experienced, endured and been tortured with. It’s beautiful, frustrating, a virtue and a pig.
So in order to unpack why I feel this connection I started where I always start as a word person - definitions. At first I went round in circles, two lazy dictionary's defined ‘patience’ as ‘being patient’ and ‘patient’ as ‘having patience’. But here are some definitions of 'patient':
The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.
Bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint
Manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain
Not hasty or impetuous
Steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity
An ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay.
And of course: An individual awaiting or under medical care and treatment.
One thing our diva friend the sun (see previous blog; Meet my friend, the moon) expects of us is - patience. She takes her sweet time in the sky, appears when she wants to, even hides for months on end sometimes, and there is sod all we can do about it. She blows hot and cold (at this distance anyway) and no amount of any of us protesting will change that, so we’ve all (to a degree) learnt patience with her movements. I suspect this is why my friend, the moon, generally keeps well out of her way. So when I say we yell ‘Nooooo!’, it's not because we are impatient with her for changing, or that we have a lack of patience with the seasons in general, I think, as so many of our reactions are, it's a sign of what's going on inside.
Now there will be many ways to interpret that, but I’m going to give you an example of two extreme camps of people’s reactions when it comes to summer arriving. Let’s call them the Sunny People and the Moony People (Moony people feel safer in the dark) I’ll show you what I mean.
Sunny People’s response to summer:
Immediately put on short dresses, shorts, vest tops and paint their toenails
Dust off the barbecue and stock up on burgers and coleslaw
Mow the lawn, weed the garden, tidy the hedges, discover a mouse has eaten through the garden furniture cushions and set about buying new ones
Fling open the windows on the house and enjoy the fresh air
Glance through their windows at the blue sky while working and itch to go and sit in it with a cold drink when work finishes
Sit in the garden in the silence on an evening and sigh as they enjoy the warmth on their skin and the lack of a giant coat
Purchase ice-creams and regularly enjoy one alone or with the family
Head to the park and other places where people are all out enjoying the weather
Meet up with friends on blankets and tan their skin as they chat or watch the kids play
Plan days out to visit new places and experience new things
Generally make the most of every moment while the weather is good
Common expressions of Sunny People will include:
“Are you enjoying the lovely weather?”
“Isn’t this glorious?”
“Hope you’re enjoying the sunshine.”
“Isn’t it lovely to have the sun shining?”
“Doesn’t everything feel better when the sun is out.”
Examples of Moony people when summer arrives:
Glance down at their pasty white, hairy skin and unpainted or uncut toenails and resent the idea that this season will make them show this part of their body, hang up their comfy clothes (if they don’t want to boil alive) and make them feel exposed, vulnerable and more conspicuous.
Every time they go to the garage or shed and see a barbecue they feel sad it’s no longer required with friends or family or the person that used to fire it up, because their no longer here. Listen to others planning barbecues and stay silent because they don’t have one, or rarely get invited.
Watch the garden as it grows, slowly taking over, but physically cannot move themselves to go and cut the lawn, or trim the hedge, the mental weight of these movements and decisions too big to contemplate.
Reluctant to open the windows to ‘fresh air’, because it doesn’t change anything or make them better, they don’t want fresh air, they want a fresh life
Look at blue sky through the window and feel sad, no desire to go out and enjoy it, enjoyment being a foreign concept, because there’s no one to enjoy it with anyway
Attempt to sit in the garden and enjoy the warm silence, but the unrest, grief and sadness inside are greater than outside pleasures, feeling alone they retreat indoors feeling more distanced from the world than ever.
Ice creams - not the same frivolous fun as they used to be, an expensive luxury
Public places are full of happy people - too daunting and painful
Contacting friends to go out is complicated, being aware you might kill their summer buzz, it’s easier to let them go out with others who don’t plonk their big ball of sadness on the blanket next to them
New places, new experiences - not even on the list
Making the most of every moment? Doesn’t matter, all the moments are tainted, let winter come.
Common reactions of what Moony People will say to Sunny People:
“Are you enjoying the lovely weather?” - “Uh huh.”
“Isn’t this glorious?” - “Yup”
“Hope you’re enjoying the sunshine.” - Yeah.”
“Isn’t it lovely to have the sun shining?” - “Yup.”
“Doesn’t everything feel better when the sun is out?” (silence, assumes it’s a rhetorical question, while saying inside - ‘no’.)
So what’s the difference? Same weather, same timeframe, same potential experiences. Is it the positive person vs the negative? Is it the happy-go-lucky vs the grump? Is it the grateful vs the ungrateful?
Interestingly, your answer to this, and your gut reaction, will tell you a lot about where you are, and the expectations you hold over others.
The answer is; someone who’s at a good place in life, and someone who isn’t. Possibly someone who’s grieving and someone who isn’t, someone who’s struggling with mental health and someone who isn’t, someone who is lonely and someone who isn’t, someone who’s desperately confused and someone who isn’t.
These responses are indicative of what’s going on inside a person. A lot of us would be quick to write these folk off as grumpy, negative, or ungrateful, when in fact they are sad, lonely, grieving or confused. And I hate to break it to some of you, but even sunshine doesn’t fix that. It can help in some ways, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not heart-mender. A sunny funeral doesn't lessen the pain.
You’ll already find you identify with one of these more than the other, even if you’re not sure why.
Moony People are like this because they’re not where they want to be in life, and I know this because I’ve been there, dare I say it, I’m not out yet. And yes, sitting out in the sun is good for us, fresh air does make people feel better on some level, being with friends can be helpful, things are easier to endure when the weather is nicer, and harder when it's dark and wet. But, as we live in a world full of Sunny People and Moony People, possibly equal amounts of both, we need to bear this in mind as we enter summer - sunshine doesn’t fix everything.
If you’re enjoying summer right now, if you’ve been out with friends, sat in the park, had ice creams as a family, held barbecues, sat and absorbed the sunlight and felt loved, been swimming outdoors, sat on your garden furniture and laughed at something, smiled as you watched a child or grandchild play with water in the heat - then make the most of every single second, because they are not basic staples of summer, they are huge blessings that many people will not experience this summer time.
So what has all this got to do with patience? Living as Sunny People and Moony People together, it is all more harmonised if we have patience with the seasons, with nature, and most of all, with each other, and ourselves.
And as most of you will know already, the lesson with patience never ends, we are always patients of patience and I say that because being a patient of patience does feel a bit like being under medical care and treatment. It’s hard, it’s not easy, it’s not natural and we want it to end. Who and what your patience needs to be with, will depend on where you are in life.
If you aren’t grieving right now, you need to have patience with those around you that are. You can’t hurry people into a better state of mind because summer’s here or because it’s been a certain amount of time and you want to see them feel better. So have patience with their journey and find ways to help them in the summer months experience the joys of summer in a kind, protected way. Maybe invite them out to something quiet, ‘would you like to come and sit with me in the park, we don’t need to say much and we can find a quiet spot and I’ll buy you an ice cream’, ‘would you like to come round for a barbecue with us? You don’t need to bring anything, you can just sit in the garden and we’ll bring you food.’ Remember that in summer people come outside, and so all the couples, families, children, parents, siblings, are on show, all the happy relationships that someone might be grieving are outdoors and probably looking like they're having the time of their lives, and this is painful for people who are alone or experiencing pain, grief, loss or mental health issues.
And if you’re the Moony person right now, or you’re grieving, you need to have patience with yourself and with others around you. It’s ok to look out of the window, see the blue sky and feel sad, it’s ok to sit in the garden, feel the warmth on your skin and shed a tear, it’s ok to not go to public places just because the weather is nice, it’s ok to say no to big busy barbecue invitations where you are faced with all you don’t have. Have patience with your situation and hope that one day summer will arrive and you'll feel different and ready to enjoy it again, but if it’s not this summer, that’s ok.
There’s obviously also loads of people in-between these two responses to summer and it might be that you recognise a bit of both sides of the coin, and your patience needs to be with yourself too, because although you might be pleased you’re moving away from being a complete Moony, you might be a bit sad you’re not quite a full Sunny yet. It’s a process and you need to give yourself the space and time to gradually heal and move towards enjoying some of the summer things again.
And if you’re the sun listening to this, well you need to have patience with us humans and you need to have a word with those clouds that stop you getting through to us Brits for months on end - because you’re not helping the Moonys!
Over the last decade I’ve had to learn patience with our circumstances, myself, my brain, my heart, others, life, God, the NHS, GP’s, HRT stock levels, gaps in medical understanding, my own capabilities not matching up with my capacity or desires, the baking process of the perfect cheesecake and how to crochet. The hardest by far - patience with myself and my own brain. If you haven’t experienced this, it is almost impossible to describe the sheer frustration of a battle with yourself. But I’ve learnt, over and over again, patience is possible, it takes effort and a desire to have it, and most of all it’s an active thing, it’s not a passive act.
Patience is not simply the ability to wait - it's how we behave while we're waiting. Joyce Meyer
If it was passive, then it would look no different from just giving up and letting go of everything and not caring, and it’s not ‘patient’ to wait for something we don’t want to come, that falls more towards endurance and courage. Patience is the act of knowing there is something better for you, not receiving it now, and learning how to live in that place with peace, while holding in tension your desire for what it is you’re waiting for.
As I write this a fly has entered the room through the open window and is trying to get back out again, it doesn’t seem patient as it throws itself against the glass over and over, buzzing angrily, not understanding why it can’t get through. This is not patience, patience was me trying to help it get back out again and watching it constantly resist my help. Patience is the person who sees what they want through the window, knows they will get there one day and is learning how to find their way there without losing their rag about it, while accepting that some things are out of their control and take time.
The frustrating thing about patience is summed up with this quote by…
You must first have a lot of patience to learn to have patience. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec
Learning patience when it takes years or decades to achieve something involves patience in itself, which is a dark hole I’m not going to look too far into today! I suspect studying how much patience you need to learn about how to be patient is something I’d lose my patience over.
However, if we manage to learn patience with life, with ourselves, with others, then the rewards can be beautiful for us and those around us.
A man who is a master of patience, is master of everything else. George Savile
There have been studies that show that gratitude can be linked to patience. Those that are more grateful have the ability to wait for things for longer. So, if we are grateful for today and what we have, we are more likely to be willing to wait for the additional things we desire. For example, today my brain is foggy and I’m suffering from a bit of my ‘Lost inside’ feeling (see Lost inside; where am I? blog), so my mind is confused and swishing around with bad thoughts, but as I type I can hear our pond fountain out of the window and a bird singing beautifully, there’s an old plane flying overhead from a nearby airport, and the breeze is soft through the window and the sun is out, but not overbearing. If I focus on these things, rather than what my brain and my feelings want me to focus on, then I am more likely to be patient with myself as I wait for my mind to clear, and to feel normal again. I gain a peace about my situation that I don’t receive if I act on my bad thoughts, give in to comfort eating, get angry at those around me and throw in the towel with the things I’m trying to work at in life. Not easy, but a doable task if I take it one step at a time.
As this quote says:
Gratitude turns what we have into enough. Anonymous
When we believe we have enough, we are patient for anything additional to that.
And once you have patience, you find you move onto even better things. As Luc de Clapiers so beautifully put it:
Patience is the art of hoping. Luc de Clapiers
So today, I hope you have an extra dose of gratitude for what’s around you, however you’re feeling inside, I hope you continue to practise patience until you find peace in the waiting, and ultimately I hope you find that hope grows in your heart and your life. The power of gratitude and hope is undeniable in all situations - in the first 30 losses of the 101 we’re looking at for the podcast, we’ve yet to find a guest that hasn’t said it was hope or gratitude that helped them, to not just survive some of the worst losses humans go through, but to thrive within it.
As the Greek philosopher, Epicurus said;
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. Epicurus