As the longest day of the year approaches —along with a lunar eclipse— things seem to have reached their darkest.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve sensed a growing malaise in my friends and in myself, even between manifold happy moments. I’ve assigned it to the gathering darkness and a potential mass Vitamin D deficiency, but I’m beginning to think that it’s more than the solstice or the shyness of the sun.

After a month of failed attempts, I was finally able to write the afterward of my book today, realizing that my writer’s block stemmed from attempting to justify my work, rather than sharing what I’ve learned. At the end of the section, I commented on the spirit of a Biennale poster (“Nights are short when days are long / Days are short when nights are long”), perhaps inspired by the heavy darkness that fell around me at 4:30 pm.

It occurred to me that life as I know it is experiencing a solstice right now. As a country, we face a seemingly endless void in our economy, in our education system, in the progress of our government, and in the job market. We’ve been slipping toward this nadir for some time, each day hoping that we’ve reached the bottom as we slide farther still. Unlike the reliable change of seasons, we’re not sure when our days will grow brighter and longer again. Even when we see small beams of light, we don’t feel optimistic enough to get excited about them; we fear that they are mere flukes, and not signals of sustained improvement.

For me, as I watch peers continue to leave my workplace, as friends transform their careers in dramatic ways or make daring life choices in the face of adversity, I’m realizing how unsettling it is to sit and simply observe people making big moves in the darkness. There’s nothing I can do to stop or slow this massive seachange; it’s like realizing the futility of fleeing when a tsunami catches you gathering shells on the beach.

Standing in the shadow of this tidal wave requires unparalleled faith: faith that, ultimately, all of this frenetic change will work out for the best; faith that it’s safe to relax and let the wave carry me where I’m meant to go at whatever speed I’m meant to travel there; and faith that I possess the resources to stay afloat, even if I get dunked a few times. Panic only leads to drowning.

I could have used that depth of faith 20 years ago when my mother died of cancer. At age 16, I certainly didn’t have the resources that I have today. That year, and for many afterward, I felt like I was held in the undertow—sputtering, gasping and flailing to reach the surface. When I think of long, dark days, those stand out as the blackest—and I was similarly unable to do a thing about them.

The last year of my mother’s life was so dark that I’ve blocked out much of it—which is why I often forget the anniversary of her death until it’s upon me. Yesterday, I couldn’t understand why I felt low, especially since so many things were wonderful: an overnight party at Angela’s, holiday brunch with Kimie and Russ at 611 Supreme, mani/pedi at Frenchy’s, and dinner with Jason and Helen. It was only when I paused for a moment in between appointments that I realized what day it was.

After dinner at Delancey’s in Sunset Hill on Thursday, several friends and I saw a cloud ring open up around the moon like a ghostly halo. Chris said that when ice crystals form a ring like that, it’s a foreshadowing for snow. I searched for a similar ring around the moon last night as we walked from Tavolata, shuddering against the icy breeze, but I only saw clouds. The stabbing cold made me think of the day we buried my mother—the only time it snowed in Phoenix during my childhood. I wondered if there had been a ring around the moon that night.

As I left Ladro this evening, I noted the fat flaxen moon, again sans ring. Now that fall gives way to winter, as familiar faces disappear, as days grow short and nights grow long, I’ve concluded that, in spite of the dizzying eddy of change about me —or perhaps because of it— the sanest thing to do is to have faith and continue gathering my shells on the beach, tsunami or no.

Like the Biennale poster, it’s all about perspective.

When I reflect on those dark days of the past and the events they set into motion, some of which have only recently concluded, I not only realize how far away those days are, I also see how far I’ve come. The road has been long and twisty in places, but it does make sense, looking back.

If there’s one benefit of getting older, it’s having the insight to see progress even in the dark—and the resources to illuminate even the longest of nights.