The Longest Night
5000 years ago, before the pyramids of Egypt were constructed, one thousand years before Stonehenge was built, neolithic peoples in what is today known as Ireland were very in tune with the yearly cycle of the sun. The rhythm of the sky played so significant a role that they constructed massive chambers to align with the Winter Solstice. The 97 largest kerbstones at Newgrange are beautifully and mysteriously carved, weigh up to one ton each and were quarried 12 miles away from the site. It is estimated that the structure contains 200,000 tons of stone, and it is 279 feet in diameter, 42 feet high, and covers an acre of land. Most remarkably, it was built by regular people in a farming community. On the Winter Solstice, a beam of light shines 20 yards straight down an underground passageway and fully illuminates an intricately carved inner chamber.
The fascination with the cycle of the seasons and the rhythm of light is common to so many cultures, and I believe it is deeply imbedded in each and every one of us. Our bodies are in tune with it, and the cycles of light and darkness factor greatly into our lives. Our culture has upended the nature cycle of light and dark, and lack of a natural rhythm affects our hormones and weight and is linked to increased chronic stress and depression. We feel it when the days are shorter, and the nights are longer, and tonight we are gathered here on the shortest day, and the longest night of the year in an age-old tradition. Long nights and winter weather are particularly dangerous for our neighbors who are without shelter. On this night, there are more people living unsheltered in our community than at any time in recent memory; over 250 our county alone.
Among other things, the Winter Solstice marks National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, a day when we remember our neighbors who have lost their lives because they have no place to call home. As we gather together on the longest night of the year, our community is in what we could consider a dark time, a very long night. We have been faced by many challenges lately, high housing costs, low housing supply, a health epidemic, and a substance use epidemic. We all feel it, we all see it, and we can acknowledge that the effects of this perfect storm are borne more greatly by some than by others.
And yet, when we come together as a community, we come together in hope. We come together in anticipation of the coming light. We come together in the belief that each one of us can play a part in making our community better, stronger, more compassionate, and more inspiring to those in need. Tonight, we will hear stories of our neighbors who have overcome tremendous odds and obstacles, who are working very diligently toward the goal of having a place to call home; a place that is warm, and safe, and full of light in a dark time indeed.
As we listen to the stories, let us be reminded of those neolithic farmers who built something together, something so massive, and so precise that it is functioning accurately 5000 years later. Let us build something better for our community. As we listen to the stories, know that they happen because of the involvement of each and every one of you. Let us be that beam of light that travels down the dark passage, filling it with light, filling the dark, inner chamber with a glorious warmth and sign of renewal in our community.
- Jonathan Farrell