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Looking for Light on the Longest Night of the Year

And yet there is light, even now.

Vaccines that protect against the coronavirus are making their way across the globe, the result of unprecedented ingenuity and cooperation. The president of the United States is still trying to undermine the integrity of the November election, but the Senate majority leader has acknowledged reality, and that’s not nothing. (It used to be nothing, true, but in a party whose leader demands primitive fealty to an imaginary reality, it’s now worthy of remark.)

The global climate catastrophe is still unfolding at a rate that, left unchecked, will wreak planetary devastation, but there are signs that the global community is beginning to take carbon reduction seriously. If these nations keep their promises, and if President-elect Joe Biden honors his own, we might manage yet to stave off the very worst disasters. The next 10 years will tell.

First there is winter to get through, for the solstice signals not only a time of increasing light but also the start of a new season.

The comfort of friends and extended family will be harder to come by as outdoor gatherings are curtailed by the cold. (That’s if we are lucky and things go as they should in winter, despite the fact that the next 10 years are projected to be the warmest decade on record.) The coronavirus vaccine, which brings so much hope with it, will take months to be fully deployed in the general population, a logistical challenge that means our unfathomable deaths, already over 300,000, will continue to mount in the months to come — potentially doubling if mask and distancing mandates ease too soon.

Through it all, the sky will begin to brighten earlier in the morning, and the light will begin to linger longer in the evening. It will give us hope and help us to hold on.

The day is coming when we will sit around tables together again and carelessly offer one another a taste of what’s on our plates. We will go to the movies again and read books among strangers in coffeehouses again and sing out loud at church services and concerts again. We will tell jokes in the break room at work again and blow out the candles on our birthday cakes again. We may even trust our government again.

That’s the great promise of the solstice: Like steadfast friends who see us through everything a cold world can throw our way, the solstice reminds us, every year, that light is coming. It tells us that darkness is never here to stay.

Margaret Renkl is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South. She is the author of the book “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss.”

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