by Susan Palwick

I live in Nevada, the driest and sunniest state in the country. My husband and I moved to Reno in June, which meant that for weeks, we woke up to brilliant sunshine and cloudless skies. When we commented on this gorgeous weather to locals, they just shrugged and said, “Oh, it’s always like this.”

Both of us grew up in New Jersey, where people yearned for sunshine and dreaded all-too-frequent rain. Living at 5,000 feet in a place where the annual precipitation averages seven inches called for some readjustments. Our new eye doctor lectured us sternly on the importance of wearing sunglasses to prevent cataracts; shades are a necessity here, not a fashion statement. New friends coached us on the importance of staying hydrated: “Always keep water in your car.” We discovered that Nevadans greet clouds with the same delight reserved for sunshine back East, and become positively exultant when it rains.

We also learned that once you’ve gotten used to almost perpetual sunshine, you feel the lack of it very keenly. In Nevada, I became much more sensitive to seasonal changes than I’d ever been back East. My mood began to reflect the weather. When darkness descended in December, I slid into depression. I started using a light lamp in the morning, and it helped, but my biggest breakthrough came when a friend invited us to spend Spring Break with her in Hawai’i. I basked in the sun there, luxuriated in it, came away feeling notably saner and more cheerful than I had back home. It turns out that mid-March is, somewhat atypically, when my Seasonal Affective Disorder is at its worst. Spring Break in the tropics has become an essential part of my self-help regimen.

With this craving for sunlight came heightened sensitivity to, and appreciation for, the rhythms and symbols of the church year. The candlelit Christmas Eve service became a poignant promise of returning light, calling me to faith that the tiny, newborn flames of the candles, so carefully nurtured in cold and darkness, would in time blaze into summer sunshine. The bonfire of the Easter Vigil, with its solemn, chanted proclamation of “the Light of Christ,” became a joyous welcoming of spring renewal, of the turning of the year into light and warmth. And when August came around, with the Feast of the Transfiguration, I understood completely why Peter wanted to stay on that mountain, above the clouds, watching the light of God blaze forth from his friend and teacher and the other prophets who had joined them. I live in high country now; I’m not sure I could go back to living anywhere flat. I know the ecstasy one feels on the peaks.

But I have also come to understand, in a way I couldn’t in New Jersey, how welcome clouds can be after brilliance. The need for shade has helped me welcome the calm restfulness of Advent and Lent, even as I wait impatiently for the return of the Son. The plains offer less drama, but more oxygen.

People who scoff at Christian rituals are fond of pointing out that Christmas and Easter mirror, and borrow from, much earlier festivals and traditions. Humans have always marked the changing of seasons, the return of sunshine and growth. To me, these parallels make Christmas and Easter more true, not less. In all ages, the Creator who sustains us — by whatever name we offer our worship — has brought us from darkness into light, guiding and protecting us, transfiguring us once more into health and wholeness.

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