When the Earth Tilts Toward Hope

5 minute read
Susanna Schrobsdorff writes the It’s Not Just You newsletter on Substack

A version of this article appeared in this week’s It’s Not Just You newsletter. SUBSCRIBE HERE to have It’s Not Just You delivered to your inbox every Sunday.


My dad always knew what time the sun was going to set. Like a lot of photographers, he loved to take portraits in that singular hour before sunset when the light is soft and kind but not too weak. Even in winter, we’d hustle to the beach to catch a sliver of perfection.

Before cameras got fancy, Dad would wear a light meter around his neck and hold the little white bubble up to our faces so he could adjust the aperture as the sun slipped away. When we were kids, I used to think the meter was infusing us with light so we’d be bright enough for him to take the photo.

In New York the sun sets at about 4:30 pm these days, and I’m wishing there were a device that could illuminate me in this darkest of months, in this darkest of years. For those of us who were never big fans of December, and the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve lost someone this year, this holiday season is beyond daunting.

But in the tragic poetry of 2020, we find ourselves at both a celestial and medical tipping point. The COVID vaccines have arrived at our darkest hour—literally—and they bring with them a tattered satchel of hope. Tuesday’s winter solstice is both the longest night of the year and the start of our climb back to the light. From December 22 on, instead of losing daylight every day, we in the northern hemisphere will get a few seconds more. It won’t be noticeable at first, but by the end of the month, we’ll have about four more minutes of daylight in New York. By March, we’ll have two more hours.

This doesn’t make the road to March, or to the long, sweet days of June, feel any closer or easier. The vaccines are a little like those extra minutes of daylight: an incremental, cumulative victory, not an instant one.

When I see the nurses, doctors and elderly people on TV getting their shots, often weeping with relief, I try to imagine a new kind of map—not the blotchy red map of disease we’ve been staring at for months, not our fraught election maps. This one is the color of midnight, and every time someone gets the vaccine, there’s another pinprick of light. (Sentimental, yes, but that image, of a country getting brighter, sustains me.)

Our nights will feel endless for a while longer. We’ll still have to fight this virus with the tools we’ve had all along: generosity of spirit and wallet, masks, patience, science—and love. Love for ourselves, and for the children who are watching to see how we treat each other.

And I know there are more devastating COVID numbers headed to our screens before the end of winter, but there’s solace in the fact that the earth—its northern half, at least—is at last tipping ever so slowly toward the sun.

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🎧Spotify’s Daily Wellnessplaylist — an uplifting mix of music, meditation, and motivational podcasts.

⛑️ The Care Package for Caregivers — a fortifying collection of podcasts, poetry, and meditations from the On Being Project.


☀️ Eating the Sun: Small Musings on a Vast Universe In honor of the winter solstice and our hunger for a little awe and sunshine, I’m sharing this joyful volume of illustrated essays by Ella Frances Sanders. She turns the laws of physics, biology, and neurology into poetry reminding us that we’re eternal creatures, made of carbon and the remnants of long-gone stars. (And have a look at her recent newsletter about what’s behind our notions of empathy and kindness.)

The light you’re seeing now still belonged to the sun eight minutes ago. But this cosmic lag doesn’t make a sunset less breathtaking or less timeless— you might be looking at a sun that’s no longer there, but it still makes for good company.

Ella Frances Sanders


Check out this inspiring conversation about the healing power of connection in moments of crisis with world-renowned mindfulness experts Jon Kabat-Zinn and Sharon Salzberg and Shelly Tygielski, founder of Pandemic of Love, a mutual aid community

What we don’t realize is that we are brought back to a place inside of ourselves that is not broken [during] an act of generosity or caring. And also sometimes in an act of receiving.

— Sharon Salzberg


Our weekly acknowledgment of the creatures that help us make it through the storm. 🤎 Meet ROXY (and her bear) shared by MARI from Lincoln, Nebraska.

💌 Send comfort animal photos, suggestions, or comments to Susanna@time.com


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