Golden, golden, golden as I open my eyes
Hold it, focus, hoping, take me back to the light
I know you were way too bright for me
I'm hopeless, broken, so you wait for me in the sky
Brown my skin just right
You're so golden.
— Harry Styles
May the fifth. The year is 2020. In spring, we Christians endured the most “Lent” Lenten season yet. We got through the beginning of a most peculiar transition from winter by connecting with friends, family members, lovers, fellow parishioners, and ourselves in any way we could from the safety of our homes. We made it through Holy Week in quarantine, then celebrated Easter in extraordinarily simple—and humble—ways.
But who could have prepared us for the first weekend of May?
In the early days of sun and budding flowers in the New York City metro area, temperatures climbed into the seventies—at one point on a Sunday, even nearing a real-feel of eighty degrees. After a weeklong peekaboo behind stormy clouds and grey skies, the sun finally exposed itself and was here to stay, ushering in not just a new month, but also fresh anxieties to accompany the calendar flip.
For just a little over the past century, it would have been a no brainer. Gorgeous weather? Time to grab that sunscreen, soccer ball, blanket, bike, floral dress, floppy hat, yoga mat, favorite pair of shades, overly-used-and-abused pair of running sneakers, dog’s leash, baby’s stroller, unwashed New Yorker tote bag, still-unfinished Edith Wharton novel, paintbrush set, picnic basket, bottle of rosé, boom box, anything goes! Let’s get loud, let’s get loud! Turn the music up, let’s do it: let’s go out!
This time around? Not such an effortless decision.
Some of us did still go out, of course. But some of us, due to a multitude of understandable reasons, felt unsure. Unsafe. Insecure. Straight up scared.
“If I really wanna go out today . . . wouldn’t everyone else too?”
Suddenly, the sun posed a threat. Governors and mayors expressed wariness of people overcrowding parks and public spaces. There were concerns that those around us—feeling antsy and impatient to have things “go back to normal”—would disobey social distancing rules, remove their masks, and relax their cautious, careful attitudes. What if all of our hard work and sacrifices from the past month and a half would be reversed from a mere few days’ worth of warm weather and sunny skies? The enemy was supposed to be a so-small-it’s- almost-invisible contagion; now, the cosmic center of our solar system becomes a further menace.
We often fear the unfamiliar. But when it comes to this specific celestial body, its daily dependability is what is making us ask the hard questions. One thing’s consistency is now—and will, for the foreseeable future, be—fueling our collective concerns.
Here comes the sun, luminous and loving even in times of extreme uncertainty and unprecedented peril. As the immense star loses more and more mass while also growing bigger way out there in space, it still somehow has time to bring together Earth’s organisms and elements, weaving a thread throughout the planet’s history that allows the past to be present, the fictional to feel bona fide, and the mythical to ring relevant for us mortals.
There was the tortured soul of Achilles, feeling the sun baking his skin on the balmy beaches of Troy. The warrior was destined to live fast and die like the brightest star burning out the fastest, yet he would wake up every morning knowing that he was not abandoned just yet, that the deities above were watching over him, that Helios would soon enough drive his chariot another day without fail. In brilliant Technicolor, sunrays hit gorgeous green fields as James Dean’s contemporaneous Cain lies down with Julie Harris’s ingénue Abra; the sweet scene lays the emotional groundwork for Elia Kazan’s cinematic adaptation of John Steinbeck’s book of Genesis retelling. Every May, like clockwork, we remember everything that characterized our childhoods and got us geared up for no-school season: the ice cream trucks and striped shorts and facial freckles making their annual debut to society.
And now we’re in the dog-days of summer. One weekend, one of my closest friends texted me: “It’s hitting me. I’m feeling nostalgic for that life we were all living not too long ago.”
Where does our energy go? What do we do with all of the simultaneous excitement and unease? How do we resist overreacting from our restlessness and boredom? How do we take action with our valid feelings of quarantine fatigue without putting ourselves and others in harm’s way during this pandemic? Should I stay (in), or should I go (out and seize the day, get a little bit of color, feel a little less lonely and a bit more connected to every other person, creature, and thing on this good green earth that we are not doing enough to preserve)?
I distinctly recall the only other time I felt this terrorized by the sun. During the worst of my depression, I couldn’t connect or feel similar to anything bright or bold, big and brazen, eliciting wonder or joy, warm and inviting, comforting or so clearly a grand gift from God. My inner demons had nearly completely convinced me that I was too sad and small beyond repair, that I would forever be destined for doom and gloom and grayness. How could I believe that I was worthy of the very thing that brought children out to playgrounds, that beckoned couples out of their homes for frolics in the park, that inspired friends and families to head on out for sports and leisure and living life to the fullest?
My priest, spiritual director, close confidant, and fabulous friend reminded me of some of the Bible’s first lines: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” Sunlight is for everyone, regardless of mood or occupation or reputation. All humans have the capacity to be good, just as how every living thing deserves physical illumination and spiritual enlightenment alike.
In Ray Bradbury’s short but devastating story “All Summer in a Day,” nine-year-old students living on Venus in the future await the coming of the sun. Once every seven years, sunlight brings a one-hour respite from the incessant rain and thunderstorms that plague the planet. The children read about the sun, all but one knowing that the last time it showed its face to them, they were too young to remember: “a yellow crayon,” “a coin large enough to buy the world with,” “like a lemon.” One girl, Margot, only came from Earth five years before, so she still had a visceral memory of the sun, “a flower that blooms for just one hour.”
On the day of the sun’s expected sixty-minute visit, the children push their faces against the windows, longing to be outside where they’ll be in the clear, with plenty of space to run around and play in, without having to worry about getting sick. Real life these days sure does feel stranger than even some of the best science fiction of the American canon, but might we learn a lesson or two from these misguided students on another world? When they react with cruelty, might we instead practice compassion? As they assume to know all the facts and disregard what the scientists have to say, might we be not so quick to dismiss statistical data? For the moments that they acted unceremoniously and selfishly, could we love our neighbors as we love ourselves and our God?
The sun is for everyone.
It is almost always there. If on a day it’s not currently available, we don’t have to wait too long for it to come back. So, we take it day by day. What to do with the sun today? Not sure? Try again tomorrow. In doubt on how to approach quarantine for the umpteenth week in a row? It does not all have to be figured out right now. As light comes up on another morning, what can we decide to do to feel genuinely good before that stunning star dips back into the horizon, taking a much-deserved break before dazzling us anew the next day, the one after that, ad infinitum?
Cover image by Ant Rozetsky.