Sarah DeVries
In 2020, any little way you can find much-needed peace is valid. In 2020, any little way you can find much-needed peace is valid.

After a year of tragedy, peace and hope lies in looking forward

This pandemic year, the winter solstice made an apt metaphor for recovery

By the time this piece is published, the winter solstice on December 21 will have passed, and Christmas will be upon us. What I write for Mexico News Daily is, for me, always personal. But this one today will be extra personal: a reflection of my individual experience this year, illustrated as a drop of water — that’s me — being carried in a societal ocean wave. We are all drops, after all, and moved around together a lot more often than you’d think.

While I’ve been known to identify as a snarky atheist in the past, I’m still human. And so, like all humans, am preprogrammed for both belief in the supernatural and the ability to find pattern and meaning in things that may or not contain pattern or meaning. You can be sure that a lot of that is going to be happening this week at my house as I, like all of you, try to make sense of all this. The winter solstice is an especially potent metaphor this time around, the longest and darkest night in an extra sad and scary year.

My hope lies in the after, and the idea that this is a turning point. The sun will extend its stay each day afterward, gradually, imperceptibly. If we can get through this night, we’ll have made it through the worst of it. If we can get through this part of the deep, dark tunnel of the pandemic, we’ll have passed the halfway mark. There’s still tunnel, and it sucks. But at least we’ll be on the way out instead of the way in.

It’s been a rough year. If you’re reading this paper, it means that though you may very well have been on a bitter tour of hell lately, you and I are still luckier than a lot of people who aren’t even alive to cry about things. So many of us have been dragged through the mud and hung up wet, but at least we’re still around to shake our fists at the gods about it.

My year on a personal level has been a mixed bag. My husband and I separated at the beginning of it. (Divorces are conspicuously up in some parts of Mexico, though in my case it’s just a coincidence.) We have been navigating the choppy seas of parenting in a pandemic with the twin sucky emotions of deep hurt and fear about what is safe and what is not. Like any two people, we don’t completely agree on every point.

The tentative excitement of moving to a new home was immediately dampened by the cancellation of schools and other nonessential activities that rolled in just as I was putting the finishing touches on the new house I’d rented. Its completion and readiness for guests happened just as it would no longer be advisable to receive guests.

My daughter suddenly found herself in a strange new house where her father did not live. She was cut off from her classmates and friends at the same time. She’s better adjusted now and seems to be settled in and enjoying going back and forth between us, as well as to her online classes — at least as much as a first-grader can appreciate online classes. For a while there, though, it was rough.

I haven’t seen my own family since last Christmas and have been feeling the effects deeply of being a single mom with no extended clan in an incredibly family-oriented culture. My sister was supposed to visit me in late March, but the week before she was to travel, the idea of closing borders was being floated all over the news media. She was afraid not just of the virus but of getting down here and then not being allowed back home at the end of her trip.

I saw quite a bit of translation work dry up as the year went on, as well: I primarily translate current events and news, and reporters simply weren’t able to go out as much and report. As I mentioned in my article about President López Obrador’s proposed outsourcing law, I’ve always worked rather precariously as a contractor, but the pandemic has added quite a bit of extra instability to it all. At least I have an income; I’ve seen many friends and acquaintances have to close their businesses, some of the more than one million that have gone belly up in the absence of any meaningful emergency support or disaster relief.

All that said, I’ve had it so much better than so many others. First, my health has been good. I haven’t been sick that I know of (though I often think back to the last week of February when I was suddenly hit with a high fever, chills, and a terrible sore throat). I’ve been able to meet a few very special people — carefully and slowly, the way the two hedgehogs in one of my daughter’s books go to great lengths to hug each other without hurting each other with their needles.

Slowly but surely, I’ve been finding more work opportunities. I’ve finally bought private health insurance, something I’ve been meaning to do for years. I have a plan to pay off my debt and maybe even eventually have some savings if I can avoid any kind of major catastrophe between now and then.

By the time you read this, December 21 will have been the darkest, longest night of the darkest, longest year that most of us have ever experienced. We might have had some individual bright spots, but on the whole, collectively, it’s been terrible.

But the day after the solstice, it won’t be the darkest night. Each day following this day up until the summer solstice will have a little more sun in it. From day to day, we won’t notice it, the way we don’t see our hair growing longer. But then one day, you look in the mirror and see that you could really use a trim. You look outside and see that it’s almost 9:00 p.m. and there’s still a little light, perfect for an evening barbecue.

The winter solstice is one of those times where I practice my own improvised version of very likely impotent witchcraft. I write down what I want to let die and burn the paper. I write down what I want to create and grow and put it in a special place, maybe with some flowers. And when things are just too awful even to get out of bed, I stay there under the covers and tell myself I’m a seed, letting, as best I can, the painful lessons cleanse me with their burning and merge with my DNA in preparation for the resurrection of an even stronger version of myself.

We prepare ourselves and grow in darkness, but the light is coming back. Get ready.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com.

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