Life is a series of projects, it seems — “What do I need to do next” is a daily refrain. And projects left undone nag at the edges of consciousness until they’re done. So best practices might be to finish what you started and tend to what needs to be done. It sounds so simple when you put it that way.

I’m writing this at 5:45 a.m., and the light is only now starting to build in the sky. It seems merely a month ago — because it was — that the sun would be shining by this time of the morning. But here we are in the cycle again, and September is the time when the night becomes as long as the day, and then the night grows longer than the day. Three months later comes the longest night of the year, and then, despite the coldest cold of the year, the day begins to claw its way back, until in March the day is as long as the night again, and then come June the longest day returns. That’s why it’s called a cycle, because round comes about year after year.

And by the 71st go-round it becomes comfort food, and you understand that whatever dire thing may happen, the light will return and the ice and snow will melt. It doesn’t make the winter less harsh, but understanding the cycle is comforting. Knowing that the sun and heat won’t last is sad, but it helps us appreciate what we have while it’s here.

Do people who live where it’s always warm have the same appreciation for a warm summer day or the first daffodil of spring? I suppose they do, because even if it never gets colder than 45 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll be miserable when it’s 45 and happy when it warms back up.

Still, I have to say I doubt that appreciation is as deep as the appreciation of one who has lived through a below-zero streak when she walks out on a spring morning and embraces the warmth of the sun again at last.

The four seasons become a metaphor for the emotional and mental seasons of life, of course. We pass through winter and slowly emerge into the light; we race through summer and slowly prepare for colder, starker times. There’s nothing new about that insight; I’m only repeating what many people have come to understand. The cycle moves along, and change is constant. The light passes and is followed by dark, but dark passes also, and we live for the light. God bless those who make light through the darkness, so that we may continue to live through harshest winters, deepest nights, and come out into the sun in the morning.

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