The United Kingdom began vaccinating for coronavirus this week as the United States and Canada approved emergency-use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and prepared to protect healthcare workers and vulnerable adults in long-term care settings. It took monumental effort to develop and produce a vaccine and conduct Phase I, II, and III clinical trials in less than a year. There is hope for a safer tomorrow.
And here in the Northern Hemisphere, we look to the skies for the aurora borealis and anticipate the winter solstice with its subtle yet convincing reversal to longer and lighter days. Even the planets get in the game, with Jupiter and Saturn aligning close enough to appear as one bright shining star (dubbed the “Christmas Star”). There will be light and hope.
It’s been 400 years (some say 800 years) since Saturn and Jupiter were as close as they will be on December 21, 2020. As the two largest solar system planets, they align closely every 20 years, but rarely during the holiday season. (It takes Jupiter 12 years and Saturn 29 years to orbit the sun). The constancy and predictability of the skies remind us of the cycle of life and our embryonic existence in the world.
What was 1991-1993 like for you? Do you remember the choices you made and the lessons you learned? Change is in the air, once again. If you are 28 to 30 years old now (or 58 to 60), Saturn returns close to its location at your birth. It’s time to take stock of who you are and who you want to be.
From December 17-21, the two planets will shine brightly together low in the southwestern sky just after sunset. This “great conjunction” occurs in the sign of Aquarius, allegedly spurring advances in technology and innovation and giving us hope for eradication of the coronavirus.
Recovery and Renewal
Our nation moves on toward hope and healing. There is new leadership on the horizon and a renewed commitment to conquer the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. At 85 to 95 percent efficacy, the vaccines offer higher than anticipated protection from illness, even in the older adult population.
However, it will be some time before we return to the “normal” routines of our lives. Even with a vaccine, we will need to wear masks and stay safe distances from each other until we reach herd immunity—when 70 to 80 percent of us have sufficient antibodies to prevent illness. That will take many months, especially with vaccines still in production and clinical trials for children still in process. (Children under age 16 make up approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population, which means all eligible adults need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.)
We’ll adapt. We have learned to anticipate whatever life brings day by day. And the hope of 2021 has to be better than the uncertainty of 2020. Patience, persistence, and perseverance (and probably a dose of luck) got us this far. Think about how much you have conquered and adapted to this year.
Meanwhile, you can check your estimated place in line for a vaccination. I’m roughly 23 millionths in line in the U.S. and behind 434,000 other Minnesotans. If you are a healthcare worker in any state, you will appear “behind very few people” across the U.S., although your state (and place of work) will set its own priority status.
The wind is at our back—finally—but we need to hoist the sails to capture it to move forward. And we may need to lighten the load we carry. As the Irish poet, David Whyte, advised in his September series, we may need to let go of the things dragging us down or holding us back. “Drop the backpack of your burdens at the door,” he urged, and “be half a shade braver” as you step into 2021. What have you been carrying this past year that no longer serves your needs? What are you creating space for and inviting into your life for the new year?
There will be more challenges—beyond face masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizer. COVID or not, some days are hard for me—with pain and setbacks and lack of sleep. I try to focus on what I do have, not on what I’m missing out on. I consciously work to not compare myself to others my age or to what I could do just two years ago. While others face financial hardship and concerns of safety, security, and personal freedom, I am thankful for what I have. Without travel and adventure for fun and distraction, I set goals to walk further and explore new routes, learn something new (handyman skills!), listen better (despite significant hearing loss), and expand my sometimes narrow worldview. And I write. Confronting our limitations and facing our fears is how we get stronger and grow—at any age.
As I strive to see beyond my isolated (and protective) existence, I remind myself of how our family moved on after childhood cancer and how I came to appreciate the moments, let go of my expectations, and savor the good times. And how, after my twin died, I strive to be the best that I can be. Jerry taught me that.
Often, in our effort to avoid heartbreak, we walk around it and guard against it, putting our energy into our fears. Instead, I try to move toward what I want, not necessarily away from what I fear or don’t want. Join me in setting your intention now for the new year. Make 2021 a year of growth and gratitude, whatever the circumstances.
As the skies transform, so too can our hearts and minds. Here’s to living your life and making it the best it can be.
Blessings for a meaningful winter solstice, and a Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Merry Christmas to all.