Here is the single coolest place on earth to have been at sunrise this morning. This is Newgrange, a 5,000-year-old burial mound in County Meath, Ireland that is also a "passage tomb": A little window above the door allows light from the rising sun to reach the depths of the burial chamber at the precise time of the winter solstice. It was only 40 years ago that the mound's brief and blazing secret was decoded, and now a lottery is held each year for the privilege of standing in the rock-hewn depths to await the distant sun's first rays as they penetrate the world of the dead.
No one knows how or why these mystical ancient engineers created this monument to the triumph of light over darkness and rebirth over death. But on this dreary winter solstice day, it's an impulse I understand. This Christmas season, our thoughts keep turning back one year to our Uncle Don's heroic struggle for freedom and joy as he approached his 94th birthday. Below is a portrait of Don in hospital weeks before his death last December. He is happy because we are with him, and have brought him a strawberry milkshake. He has made of his hospital bed a Newgrange, aligned and waiting for the light, and it has unerringly illuminated him. Happy Solstice.
S OMETIMES thou seem’st not as thyself alone,
But as the meaning of all things that are;
A breathless wonder, shadowing forth afar
Some heavenly solstice hushed and halcyon;
Whose unstirred lips are music’s visible tone;
Whose eyes the sun-gate of the soul unbar,
Being of its furthest fires oracular—
The evident heart of all life sown and mown.
Even such love is; and is not thy name Love?
Yea, by thy hand the Love-god rends apart
All gathering clouds of Night’s ambiguous art;
Flings them far down, and sets thine eyes above;
And simply, as some gage of flower or glove,
Stakes with a smile the world against thy heart.
--Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 'Heart's Compass'