In January, we in the Northwest become connoisseurs of light. Gourmets who savor every spoonful. As the sun rises behind clouds on a Saturday morning, I lie in bed and study the bare branches of the old red oak in the park across the street and conclude: yes, they do look ever so slightly fuller. It’s the light, plumping the tiny buds inside each twig, like an artist going over his pencil marks with a black felt-tip marker.
Later, we walk out of a matinee at 4:30 and are surprised to see streaks of light still in the sky. The next day, there will be a few more minutes of light. And each day after that. Every single day from now til the 21st of June!
We who live nearer the poles love light the way babies love mothers’ milk. In winter, we turn our faces to the sun whenever and wherever we encounter it. This year, our New Year’s Day was dazzling, as drenched in light as Jan One can be in Seattle. My husband and I went for a walk at Alki Beach and everyone, everyone was smiling their most carefree, I’m-letting-my-inner-happy-baby-show kind of smile. It was as if the sun was granting us eight golden hours on the edge of the prism between the dark, exhausted old year and the beckoning light of the new. Talk and walk, the sun said; smile, breathe, drink in this light. You know it won’t last because this is the Northwest. But you live here, so you know to treasure it.
I was born in January. I’m a natural Janus. That lesser, restless, Roman gatekeeper god, always depicted in a double profile, looking forward and back? That’s me. I don’t want to forget the past; I want to mull it and sift it and puzzle over what it might mean. But I’m just as fascinated by the future. I strain to see ahead; I’m so curious to know what’s around the next curve. What adventures the new year might bring.
Sometimes, that looking back that I so love to do enhances the forward view in unexpected ways. For example: Last January, I was looking forward to, of all things, the end of Newt Gingrich’s primary campaign, which was imminent. This January, we are celebrating President Obama’s second inauguration. What a difference a year makes!
Last January, I praised outgoing Governor Gregoire for her public support of gay marriage and her explanation of why, as a Catholic, she finally changed her mind. This January, the gay couples who got married as soon it was legal in our state are celebrating their one-month anniversaries. And there are rumors that Obama will ask Gregoire to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Every year, I do have to face the one-year-older part of my January equation. But I try to think of one of my mom’s favorite quips about aging, which was, “Hey, consider the alternative!” When she was my age and said it, I thought it was spunky and charming. Now, I’ve lost enough friends and colleagues to really understand the poignance of what she meant. To understand that it’s a blessing to be a Janus, because the pause between past and future is where we live. We look back, we look forward, then we stand still, turn our faces to the sun and drink this moment deeply.
Movies on your restless mind? Check out The Restless Critic.
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Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.