RESOLUTION the corridors of Time...
by p a pearson

I was thinking the other day about a place called Newgrange, located in the present day County of Meath on the east coast of Ireland. The Megalithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange was built about 3200 BC, making it older than Britain’s more famous Stonehenge, and is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun.

I find it interesting that, in all the intellectual wisdom of our modern times, we can say without question when the Newgrange structure was built and what materials were originally used. We can judge with mathematical precision that the builders certainly had a good understanding of astronomy because of their exact placement of the stones. But we somehow still cannot explain why it was built, nor what exactly people of that time 5,000 years ago were thinking when they ceremoniously awaited – perhaps without actually knowing why – for the sun to cross a certain passage within that mysterious circle of stone, for a dramatic 17 minutes, when a shaft of sunlight shone through the roof over the entrance to light up the chamber, signaling the celebration of Light in the rebirth of the Sun into a new solar year.

I wonder if, 50 centuries from now, anyone will know why we -- at the dawn of the 21st century A.D. -- stare for hours, from sometimes thousands of miles away, at a multicolored sphere of light, just to watch it slowly drop within dramatic 60 seconds from a tower of steel and glass, marking the beginning of each new year. We live in exciting times, this dawning of a new age in technology and communication. A flight to the moon takes just a few days; a journey across oceans, mere hours. Messages from anywhere in the world can be sent and received in a matter of minutes; the flick of a button could destroy it all in seconds. We live in a 24/7 X-box world, where buff is tough and thin is in. We multitask our every-day lives making deals on the telephone while driving our children across high-speed freeways from daycare to drive-through dinners. We live in a world where the words “I need a vacation” are met with laughter and disregard; in a time when time itself is a most valuable commodity.

Yet in thinking of those Neolithic kindred spirits of humankind from so long ago, I wonder how much civilization really has changed in the centuries of time between our time and theirs. We may use cell phones instead of smoke signals, but we still have the urge to communicate with our neighbors. Instead of physically hunting for our food, we do quite avidly stalk the grocery ads for the best bargains. Instead of using sticks and sharpened stones to bring down our prey, we courageously capture our sustenance in wheeled carts of steel and purchase it with small cards made of plastic. The start button on the microwave has replaced lighting fire with flint rock. The storytellers can now be called filmmakers. The runners taking news from village to village are now instead known as media. Will those who live 5,000 years from now think we are really so different than those 5,000 years before?

The common thread, I think, is felt mostly when the seasons change to shorter days and longer nights. The air turns cooler as the northwesterly breeze spins into chaos a colorful kaleidoscope of falling leaves, inevitably landing in doorways that open to a landscape of dying summer. It is as though we are tied within the braided circle of life, regardless of our own place on the yardstick of time, to this annual time to reflect on what has been good (and bad); a time to bring together for appraisal all we have acquired (and all we have lost); a time to gather humanity around us in warmth and generosity (again); a time to face the future with a renewed sense of hope (still).

No one is really sure how long ago humans recognized the winter solstice and began heralding it as a turning point, but most scholars agree it stemmed from an ancient fear that the failing light of the sun would never return unless humans intervened with anxious vigil and/or antic celebration of some form or another. The ancient Mesopotamians celebrated the time of the winter solstice with a festival of renewal designed to tame the monsters of chaos for one more year. The Babylonians and the Persians celebrated the rebirth of the sun by creating a temporary subversion of order where, as the old year died, rules of ordinary living were relaxed, if only for a day. The winter solstice ritual in Ancient Greece was called the Festival of the Wild Women. Not to be outdone, the Romans celebrated "seed-time," giving themselves up for a week to the wild joys of feasting, gift-giving, and lighting candles and lamps to chase away the spirits of darkness. And in China, the day of winter solstice is called Dong Zhi ("The Arrival of Winter") celebrated as a feast during the coldest months, with Ju Dong ("doing the winter").

From ancient times to modern times and from all corners of the world, the return to longer days and shorter nights has been celebrated by all types of people, from hundreds of cultures, in their own ways and for their own reasons. The seasonal rejoining of humanity through feasting, giving, and regenerating hope ensures the warmth and light of that fire never goes out. Far be it from us, the pampered descendants of the 20th Century melting pot of diversity called the United States, to turn away from tradition that is millenniums old. Not only have we openly embraced the seasonal traditions, we have taken them into the next generation of celebration: we actually start the party in October.

As October draws to a close, we joyfully begin to shroud our lives in black and orange; decorate our homes with dead corn stalks; spend artistic hours carving intricate faces into pumpkins; and accept with humor dismembered body parts, bloody ghouls, demons in the night, and scary rubber masks of music superstars and presidents living and/or dead. We call this Halloween, and spend tons of money on tons of miniature candy to be freely given away to miniature people (we can only hope are children) wearing costumes and masks through the dark cold night, shamelessly going from door to door demanding all the sugar we have. Halloween is the opening celebration to our season of rebirth.

Whether we actually celebrate ourselves or not; whether or not we prepare children to be sent out on candy-hunting expeditions; whether we see no significance to it at all, the spirit of Halloween's playfulness reaches each of us in one way or another. There is always that one moment during every Halloween season we have a memory sparked from a single child's joy that somehow touches the innocent child – the one without fear, facing a hopeful future -- who lives within us all.

Having crossed the ritual of frightening away all our own types of chaos, we turn to the theme of Thanksgiving, celebrating all the things and all the people that combine to make our lives wonderful. It is a time for family and friends to gather and to share, and to demonstrate thanks for what we have, rather than focus on what we don’t. Thus we begin our Thanksgiving season, shedding the black and orange for browns and yellows and reds; enveloping an urge to dress candles and toy turkeys in miniature pilgrim clothes for decoration; and universally developing an uncanny fondness for pumpkin pie.

Yet there is each year that one moment in time, sounding above the family gatherings, the countless parades, timeless seasonal movies, and endless football bowls. It penetrates our gluttonous souls, helping us realize Thanksgiving is a time to realize all that we are and know is cause and effect by all that surrounds us, and we are grateful for that.

The ritual successfully turns us into sentimentally thankful saps, and we now feel compelled to spread this newly found rebirth of spirit within us to everyone we know, and even those we don’t (whether they really want us to or not). Surrounded now by brilliant greens and reds and whites, flashing lights outline homes and yards, turning even the saddest block into a Vegas-like wonderland of color. The smell of pine permeates the air from street corner tree lots; holiday music plays at every turn; we willingly spend mass quantities of money on ourselves and others; and enough food and drink begins passing amongst us, in the name of celebration, to feed a small Indonesian nation for the next six years.

This climax to our festival season is a fun, emotional, tradition-making journey of intense sentiment not one of us can ignore. It is a time of confusing contradiction. It is a happy time, and a sad time; a time of methodical tradition, and a time of chaos. Although overwhelmed in the glow of universal goodwill, hostility still occurs over truly trivial things, like parking spaces at the mall. The desperate needs of the needy take center stage this one time of year to touch the generosity of our souls. At the same time greed and self-interest are at their highest.

Through ringing bells and caroling; passing decorated store windows and streets; and seeing Santa occasionally drive by in his Ford truck, the nagging chord of contradiction can sometimes take its emotional toll. True faith in what we do (and why) begins to decline. Yet there is always that one special moment during the holidays you see the look in someone's eyes when you know they received the perfect gift. It isn't the gift you feel, but the warmth from their heart and the secret smile you share -- that is always remembered the most.

After chasing away our chaos, finding calm in our thanksgiving, and reveling in our gift-giving, we then by instinct face the ancient cleansing ritual of a solid new year experience. Whether we celebrate the turning of time at Times Square, attend a masquerade ball, or play with our friends on the Internet, as the clock strikes midnight, we say goodbye to the old and usher in the new. By instinct on that one magical night, we know we have within us the power to change ourselves and our lives, and – as though wishing with a genie's lamp – we face a brave new world by making resolutions we too often fail to keep. As those who may look back upon us 50 centuries from now, I look back to those at Newgrange knowing it was human, I feel quite sure, to be touched by memories, both old and new, of annual clan gatherings. Surely the cooks spent hours by the fires cooking traditional stews and sharing new-found ideas on how to season things up a bit throughout the year. Children, no doubt, delighted in newly carved figurines made just for them and hid in the shadows listening to the hunters who most certainly quibbled endlessly on how to best paint the year's biggest mammoth hunt on that traditional cave wall.

Whether or not the people at Newgrange had a ritual they called "resolutions" that concluded this annual celebration, I feel quite sure there did come for them that one moment, settling in the quiet of the night, while they nestled snuggly under warm mammoth skins, that they each magically touched upon the eternal chords of humanity, realizing – as we all must do -- the true gift of life. That gift is to always remember the playfulness of the human spirit; not take life too seriously sometimes; and always venture forward with faith, and without fear. Reach out from the cocoons of life we too often become in order to think of others before we think of ourselves. Be ever grateful for what we have to give; as well as ever learn to humbly accept gratitude ourselves. Selflessly remember those in need, to help however and whenever we can, even if we can only help a little. Especially remember the needs of those we love, and to show them often how much they are loved in unexpected and pleasing ways.

And so it has been for all humanity across the ages, as I hope it will be for ages to come, when that one moment comes to us all -- and I do feel quite sure it does – when we each ceremoniously step ourselves into the very same corridors of time. Joining hands in an eternal circle of humanity, where the past is present and the future is now, for that one magical moment crossing from one year to the next, we realize the only hope for the future throughout time has been the promise of humanity to just do our best.


from STREET Magazine, Issue #5, Winter 2004


© Dwarf Designs 1998-2009