WINTER SOLSTICE 2020: ACCEPTANCE
This year I greet the solstice on my back, shavasana before I rise, done before I begin. I know this is a pose of forgetting - final rest after a hopeful practice, rewarding the muscles for reaching to the sun, for opening the rib cage, for balancing impossibly against the ruthless pull of gravity, fighting the skeletal resistance of what the body knows should be true. Shavasana is the warrior’s reward - and challenge - to rest fully, safe in the knowledge that there is nothing left to do.
In the blackness of early morning, nearly hibernating, I allow myself the slow drip of gloom that weighs down these arms, that forces my head back, resigned. It seems the days have been shortening forever, each one a bit heavier than the one before. Loneliness, fear of illness, disappointments all sit on my chest. Each breath pushes stubbornly back.
Starting from corpse pose, I am nothing. I have not yet reached for the sky or stretched myself to be someone I am not. I have not earned rest. It doesn’t matter. This is where I have to start: stripped of animacy, but breathing. Accepting what I cannot control.
This is the nadir, the longest night.
I feel dawn approaching before I can see it, the darkness ever so slightly diluted. I breathe it in, hoping that light confers some power to bring me back from the dead, help me awaken with hope. After the solstice each day will struggle a minute closer to spring - tempting optimism even as the temperature drops. I am learning not to expect too much.
Here is where vulnerability and promise intertwine. Tendrils of sunlight, impossibly golden, announce a turning of fortune, however weak. Ripe with possibility, the day invites speculation; the frozen nights chill it in its place. Winter has just begun.
I rise. Rooting my feet and stacking bone over bone, hips over legs, palms facing forward, open, I see my reflection in the glass door, taking in the frosted, icy ground outside, bare tree limbs juxtaposed with my arms as I, too, reach upward. Even in dormancy, my muscles yearn to find purpose.
Automatically, I begin. My body knows the flow, how to dive down to the earth, press my whole self against it before lifting first my chin, then my hips. Finally, slowly, I turn my face to the reluctant wintertime sun, imagining a warmth it can only imply.
While in medical school at UCSF, Claire Unis enrolled in the MFA program at USF, where she focused on writing memoir and narrative nonfiction. She completed both degrees simultaneously. Now a practicing pediatrician, she also leads Literature and Medicine classes for other clinicians in one of the largest medical groups in northern California. More can be found on her website, www.claireunis.net.