Surviving The Longest Winter

As Clocks Move Ahead One Hour, We Can Finally Let Go Of The Darkness We Dreaded

Last summer, as we were still battling the COVID-19 pandemic with no end in sight, no word on vaccines and the predictions for a winter surge looming, I noticed something that made me shudder.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Daylight Savings Time was to end on November 1, the earliest possible date it can happen. I noticed it didn’t begin again until March 14, the latest possible date. That meant this winter, the first since the pandemic began, would feature the longest possible timeframe for the sun setting before 6 p.m. The thought depressed the hell of out of me.

When we went into shutdown mode a year ago, New Yorkers started a tradition of going outside and cheering and banging post at 7 p.m. each evening in honor of healthcare workers who were desperately trying to save lives. One evening while joining in, I noticed it was still daylight out. I texted to a friend of mine:

“Thank God this happened after the winter ended, I couldn’t imagine being in lockdown and it getting dark at 5 p.m.”

Early sunsets are my least favourite thing about winter. Growing up, I found myself suffering from terrible depression in the dead of winter when it would get dark at 5 p.m. Even on the rare nice days, it meant there was little chance of hanging out with my friends since we couldn’t be out past dark and “dark” came only about an hour or two after school ended – time eaten up by homework. In my early working days, I remember leaving work at 5 p.m. and it already being dark. When I was Editor-in-Chief of the Queens Tribune, I often got to work when it was dark and left when it was dark, sometimes going 36 hours without ever seeing sunlight. And it felt like it went on forever. I remember walking home from the subway once in pitch darkness at 5:45 p.m. well into January looking at my phone and seeing that the sun wouldn’t set after 5 p.m. until the third week of the month. A few years ago, driving around in darkness at 6 p.m. in February, I noted that “it felt like I had lived ten lifetimes since the last time it got dark after 6:30 p.m.”

That was the dread I felt going into this winter. None of those timeframes between Daylight Savings were going to be as long as this year. That, combined with the idle pandemic lifestyle we are forced to endure, would make this winter hell. It would be long, dark and boring, slowly watching the calendar turn. I dreaded the feeling I felt the first week of the pandemic, where it had felt like a year had gone by. It didn’t help that the winter COVID-19 wave started right after we changed the clocks in November.

It was as bad as predicted.

Hundreds of thousands died, there were no Broadway shows, bar trivia nights and family gatherings to take my mind off my seasonal depression, my usual means of endurance. Christmas was small, New Year’s was quiet, there was little-to-no work. There was an attempted coup in Washington.

But there were also vaccines, a new president and new friends that I made over social media. There were movies I haven’t seen in years, great television shows to watch, recipes to cook and chores to do. There were real estate classes to take, virtual writing groups to attend and decorations to put up. I read books, did puzzles, dabbled in SimCity for the first time in five years. There were things that kept me busy, and away from counting the weeks and days until March 14.

In November, there was a focus on counting votes. In December, Christmas kept me busy and joyful. In January, I got myself back into the grove of work and continuing education, which carried over in February and before I knew, we were closing in on the end of the 17 arduous weeks that Standard Time lasted.

And now the sun will set after 7 p.m. for the next six months. When I eat dinner, it will still be daylight. I can do evening showings again, and not have to turn on my office lights at 4 p.m., allowing natural daylight to illuminate my space a few hours longer. Warmer temperatures come soon, as do flowers and birds and, once a vaccine is in my arm (dose one scheduled for April 1), friends, family and parties will return as well.

I wouldn’t relive the past year for any amount of money, but I can say with certainty that there were positive lessons learned. I learned to tackle my fear of isolation and solitude, and appreciate them when the opportunities to be alone are offered. I learned patience and I learned the value of friendships and family, and I learned that no matter how long and dark the winter may be, filling it with projects and people that bring you joy will help the time go by faster. In future years, the long stretch of time where it gets dark early will be easier to endure, thanks to the Longest Winter.

It certainly did not feel like 17 weeks, but here we are. Now get ready to go out there and enjoy the sunshine.

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