Contemplating the Winter Solstice

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I’ve always been affected by the Winter Solstice. I’m not quite sure why, perhaps because I’m such a sun worshipper. The shortest day of the year seems sad, the longest night a little scary. But it’s also a transition point that I appreciate, with each day now growing longer. If today represents death, tomorrow begins the gradual rebirth of bright, warm, late-spring evenings.

This Winter Solstice carries a special resonance for me. A year ago, I watched the casket containing my lover and life partner, Rhonda Barzon, lowered into her grave. Her family and the circumstances of the calendar chose the Dec. 21 funeral date, but I was powerfully struck by the connection, then and now. It wasn’t just the longest night of the year, it was perhaps the longest night of my life.

It’s been a rough year since then: grieving my lost love; disbelieving how such an epic storybook romance could end so suddenly in death; wrestling with real despair and other powerful, unfamiliar emotions; feeling empathy for her suffering family, even as I occasionally absorbed their subtle or overt blame; second-guessing how things could have gone differently; longing for her touch or some sense that her spirit was still here; wondering if I’d ever feel like my old self again, suspecting that nothing would ever be the same.

Meanwhile, my professional life was unraveling. I had my dream job, editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, but it wasn’t the old independent Guardian that I started working for in 2003. We had new corporate owners who didn’t value good journalism or share the Guardian’s progressive worldview, and they had moved us into the Westfield Mall, a crassly commercial environment that sucked at my soul. I still had editorial independence, but the lack of internal resources and tattered state of progressive San Francisco provided daily challenges and stress.

When Glenn Zuehls replaced Todd Vogt as the head of three-newspaper San Francisco Media Company last summer, the Guardian lost its last champion within the corporation, someone who had improbably gone from wanting to fire me to being my strong supporter. Our obituary was already being written behind closed doors by our corporate overlords, but the Guardian’s abrupt closure on Oct. 14 was still sudden and unexpected for us.

That blow to my 24-year newspaper career and my beloved city compounded the sense of loss and insecurity that I had been carrying with me since Rhonda’s death. Even the strong community support that I received after the Guardian’s shutdown, while heart-warming and appreciated, just reminded me of how my community had also supported me a year ago, and how that support soon fades as people get back to their lives.

Ultimately, we all must face our life and its trials alone, no matter how much social support we have. That sense of solitude seems suited to the solstice. In the darkness, we’re alone with our thoughts and feelings, with nothing to distract us or brighten a melancholy mood. It’s when we face the person who we’ve become.

So today feels like the end of era, one last dark night for my soul before a little more light begins to creep its way into my psyche. Tonight, I’ll mourn Rhonda and the Guardian and the carefree days of my youth, running barefoot across the warm sand, purely at play. And tomorrow, I’ll begin the process of my rebirth, letting insights found in the darkness guide me as I emerge back into the light.