“Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it.” – Daisy, from The Great Gatsby
It’s easy to lament the passing of the longest day of the year — but where I am on the east coast there’s nothing like that feeling of noticing that it’s 9pm…and the sky is still holding onto a brush of light.
Whether you live in the western desert or the northeast wetlands (it sure feels like that tonight), the longest day of the year is symbolic of the moment when the sun begins its subtle shift southward. The days becoming shorter, signaling the end of summer on the very day that summer begins.
The summer solstice is the metaphor of endings that are beginnings—“in my beginning is my end” and is a good reminder that whatever is happening in your life right now, whether it be joy and celebration or death and suffering, are not permanently stuck in time and space. Everything is revolving. (Which doesn’t mean that everything is fine, or perfect, or just.)
Like fire. It may seem like a constant state of heat and flame, but nothing is constant about such a rapid, persistent chemical reaction that releases both heat and light simultaneously and can flare up within seconds. But contained, it’s pure magic.
“Our ancestors built huge bonfires on this day to celebrate their tangible connection to the vital power of the immense burning star that keeps our planet bright, warm and alive. It’s a good time to remember that we, like the sun, contain the power to nurture and sustain, and that we have a responsibility to burn as brightly as we can.
(It) is the time to invite fire into our lives fire to burn away all that we have outgrown and all that no longer serves us; fire that makes the wild things grow in us, for which our inner selves have longed.
-Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaw from Celebrating the Great Mother (qtd MysticMamma)
Celebrating this day of days with a fire ritual (no matter if by candlelight or bonfire) is a good way to honor the cycles of day and night as symbols of our own cyclical lives. Holding onto the light, even in the darkest of days, is a survival technique. Taking time to notice it happening on June 21st can help trigger a reminder that light is changing even during the darkest days of winter.
So as you watch the fire transform wood into smoke (or wick into flame), here’s a poetic ritual that honors the ever-changing state of your physical/psychic/emotional skyfield.
Wherever you are in relation to the hemispheres, you can observe the summer solstice by locating yourself within the specifics of your space and time.
Notice: what is to the north of you, and what is to the south? Where is the nearest body of water, or the nearest mountain? What ground lies beneath you, and what is happening to the earth beneath your feet?
Read Frank O’Hara’s A TRUE ACCOUNT OF TALKING TO THE SUN AT FIRE ISLAND and be attentive to the position of the sun, and where you are now in relation to it.
Tell the sun about everything that makes you most angry. Tell the sun your resentments and your failures, your feelings of inferiority and your disappointments.
Write a poem, song, letter — or just feel the heat and think these things out loud. Draw a scribble that represents these things.
Give it to the sun. Throw the scribble into the fire. Release it from your body, feel the intensity of your dark side chemically transform into heat and flame.
Allow the sun to leave a poem in the release of all that.
Breathe into the space that has been left behind. Fill it with purpose and resolve. Let go of what no longer serves you, but hold onto the energy of what has been left behind.
Sleep, and dream. Upon waking, write down your morning thoughts. Welcome the day that marks the day after the first, and last, day of summer.
Here’s my own incantation for the summer solstice in honor of Frank O’Hara:
It’s the longest day of the year and at 8pm, daylight is still in the window.
I’m supposed to let something go.
But there are certain things that I think I’ll hold on to, for just one more trip around the sun.
To the dream that the one who loved me will come back: I’m holding on to that.
To the project that has been unfinished for ten years, now a gathering place for stink bugs in the garage: I’ll hold onto that box — I’m not dead yet.
To the past and how I once hid in a closet covered with clothes and a mask to protest the lack of recognition I was receiving from my mother: Might as well hold onto that, it’s the part of me that bites.
But that pain in my neck – I’ll burn that.
And I’m thinking of burning fences, I’ve got a dog that ignores them anyway.
And if my presence makes another person feel invisible, I’ll burn the space between us.
Minds create chasms; hearts fill it.
To the sun I say fire: mind the gap.