Next Thursday, December 22, is the shortest day of the year. You wake up in the dark, have breakfast in the dark, lunch in the dark and then the sun rises. And then, just before dinner, it sets. It’s awful.
It didn’t used to be like this. I remember years ago when I was a boy, maybe it was months ago, well it was last June when the sun rose gloriously at a quarter to six in the morning, passed high overhead during the day and then set also gloriously around nine at night. I recall that a few weeks further on, on the Fourth of July, the authorities had to wait until 9:30 p.m. before it got dark enough for them to start sending off the fireworks. Some people, tired of waiting, had already gone home by then.
Those in the know tell me there seems to be something wrong with the earth. The earth is supposed to make a perfect circle around the sun. All the other planets dutifully make perfect circles around the sun. But somehow, somewhere, something went a little cuckoo inside the earth and it began to spin funny and wobble as it went around. It also tipped on its axis a certain number of degrees. Soon, the elliptical path around the sun it was describing became quite noticeable. You couldn’t miss it.
It’s alarming and in need of repair, our earth is. But nobody has any idea where to take it. Also, if it is taken in for repair, where do we go to wait while it’s in there? It certainly is a worrisome thing. The authorities, I think, have been keeping this awful situation from us. Why get us upset? We can’t do anything about it. It’s getting worse. Well, now you know the truth.
One of the really bad things about all of this, besides the fact that you can see the telltale evidence of all this awfulness every uh, day, is that we have during the winter only a limited number of hours to get our Vitamin D. You can take Vitamin D pills to get Vitamin D—there are even chewable pills you can take—but it’s not the same as the real thing, which is the Vitamin D we get from sunshine.
Be sure to go out into the sunshine every day when there’s only these few hours the sun is up there. The doctors tell us we should get 20 minutes out in the sun every day, but this time of year it should be about double that. The reason is that the earth, with its wandering, is way out on its elliptical, so the rays of the sun are weaker. Also, for some reason, the sun doesn’t get way overhead. It rises on the horizon, then putters up just a little, messes around way off to one side there trying to send stuff through the haze of the atmosphere and then, exhausted, sinks back down into the darkness. Really you should try to get 60 or even 80 minutes of sunshine Vitamin D this time of year. Maybe even the whole two and a half hours it is up.
Doctors tell us that if you don’t get enough Vitamin D, you get the following symptoms: muscle weakness, hypertension, pain in your bones and cognitive impairment and if you get all that come upon you—pain, nervousness, weakness and dumbness—it can make you feel like you want to just kill yourself.
Indeed, in many countries where the lack of sunshine in the winter is even more severe than here— Iceland, Finland, Siberia—there is a very high rate of suicide as people get all depressed, think oh what’s the use and then the hell with it. Many say these suicide rates would be even higher if it weren’t for the stupid symptom. Being unable to figure out how to kill yourself may lead to a longer life span, but it also leads to frustration. You just can’t win.
I don’t know if you know this or not, but there’s a small town in the Italian Alps that sits on the side of a mountain so steep it doesn’t get any sunshine at all, summer, fall, winter or spring and never has. People living in this town did get the symptoms of Vitamin D deficiencies, but it wasn’t all that bad, apparently, because having never been out in the sunshine they didn’t know what they were missing.
What the researchers did find, however, was that they played really sad music. Their music consisted of dirges, funeral marches, the blues, “my woman done left me” laments and other songs so awful that during the time the studies were being done those doing them just cried and cried.
About 20 years ago, though, the government of Italy got a great idea to help the people living in this town. Using a series of mirrors, they got the sunshine on the other side of the mountain to reflect its way around to the town of Viganella, (look this up, you’ll see I’m not making this up,) so now Viganella is bathed in this reflected sunlight all the time.
Oddly, however, this mirrored contraption had the opposite effect of what was intended. Where before they had only light symptoms because they didn’t know what they were missing, now they had really bad symptoms because they knew what they were missing and they knew this was just a fake.
However, their songs are now all upbeat. They sing “You Are My Sunshine,” they sing “Smile Darn Ya Smile” and they sing “Grab Your Coat and Get Your Hat and Leave Your Worries On the Doorstep” and “Just Direct Your Feet to the Sunny Side of the Street.” They also seem to have fallen in love with the movies of Will Farrell.
I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. Maybe its just that with Global Warming, Rising Sea Levels, Wild Weather and the problems with the Euro, I thought that just having one more thing we can’t fix to worry about might diffuse some of the sadness.
Also, it’s getting dark now, so I have to put my pen and paper away while I can still find the drawer into which to put them.
Just remember this. After December 22, we turn the corner. By Christmas day, you should have a good forty seconds more of sunshine, and by New Years a further minute and fifty five. It only gets better and better after that. So just put on those Happy Feet, sing a few verses of “Pack Up Your Troubles in an Old Kit Bag” and “Smile, Smile Smile,” and tap dance your way along thinking about the glories of next summer.