After a dark 2020, things are literally going to get brighter

Atlantans find reasons for hope as the days start to get longer

Like many, Christine Swint has felt the turmoil of 2020. The poet from East Cobb hasn’t seen her mother in over a year and has been separated from her out-of-town family.

She has found refuge in yoga, though, and was one of 15 people who practiced on a stone patio at the Dunwoody Nature Center Monday afternoon to mark the winter solstice: the shortest day and longest night of the year.

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After a year marked by the coronavirus pandemic, political rancor and occasional unrest, things are about to get brighter. In the sky, anyway. Tuesday’s few extra seconds of sunlight begin the time of days gradually getting longer.

Before the sun set on the year’s shortest day, Swint and others around metro Atlanta reflected on this dark year.

“What I have learned from this year is not to take for granted our chances to be together, and how important community is,” she said.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Sean Kim opened KinNoTori Ramen Bar in the plaza across from Ponce City Market on Feb. 7, just before coronavirus gripped the city, forcing major changes to the restaurant business. He opened the restaurant to build something for his boys, age 6 and 7, but also to serve the community. He stayed up until 4 a.m. some nights setting up an online platform so people could order remotely.

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He said he didn’t, and still doesn’t, like online orders. As a chef, his priority is on the food. So after spending years honing recipes for ramen — which in Japan is meant to be eaten fast and fresh — he had to change workflows for the uncertain timings of the delivery world. It’s now up to diners to incorporate noodles into soups last-minute so nothing is overcooked.

Kim, who had to let staff go early on, said the new business is making about 55% of his initially projected revenue. He said he has dipped into his retirement fund, but is appreciative the business is still open.

“Any business owner at this point, they made it this far, so you have nothing but hope,” Kim said. “God has given us just enough to get through this, like manna.”

That was the message at Chamblee First United Methodist Church, which held its “longest night” service on Sunday.

“Tonight as we approach the longest night of the year ... there are those of us, who in this season of light and merriment, are carrying the deep burden of grief. This year this seems especially true as we have been going through a global pandemic,” said Rev. Stacey Rushing, a pastor at the church.

She opened the service with a reading from the book of John that ends: “Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Solstices happen because Earth is tilted about 23 degrees. That means different parts of the world get different amounts of sunlight as the planet revolves around the sun. Think about tipping your hat down when it’s suddenly too bright out.

“Because of that slight tilt, we end up getting more daylight and less nighttime,” said Dylan Lusk, a local forecaster with the National Weather Service.

That slight tilt makes a big difference.

On Monday, he said, Atlanta got 9 hours and 55 minutes of sunlight. On the summer solstice, which is June 21, the city gets 14 hours and 24 minutes of light.

Danny Beard, co-owner of a record store in Little 5 Points called Wax n’ Facts, has seen his fair share of lightness and darkness in his time owning the store. Wax n’ Facts has been open since the 1976, and has survived the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The store closed for three months between March and June due to the pandemic. It is open now, operating with limited capacity and reduced hours.

Beard said the holidays have been slightly busier than the rest of this year with people buying gifts. He said the holiday bump in customers came early this year. Although reduced hours and capacity have affected revenue of the store, Beard is optimistic about the future.

“I’m hopeful for a return to normalcy,” he said, adding that he was excited for “more of the same” and more consistency in the future.

Normalcy and safety is why Yennenga Adanya said her business teaching meditation and holistic lifestyles is up 221% from this time last year. Adanya “hosted” 240 people Monday night for a virtual winter solstice meditation. She suggests people reassess their habits and enter “hermit mode” this time of year. This year, hermit season has coincided with renewed pleas to observe masking and social distancing guidance.

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Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

While the pandemic has wrought widespread cultural and economic havoc, 2020 took specific aim at Atlanta author Jason E. Brooks. He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer on March 14, the day his daughter turned 14.

“The cancer, I was told, is incurable but treatable,” he said. “So for the past nine months I’ve endured chemo and radiation, knowing it won’t eliminate my cancer, but will prolong my life. All while being cut off from the world outside my front door.”

He remains hopeful for the year to come.

“I look forward to living according to my boundaries and making things like travel and new experiences a priority rather than a wish,” he said. “I look forward to watching my kids mature and being present and engaged at an even deeper level to ensure that maturation. I look forward to loving my wife as deeply and meaningfully as she deserves. And I look forward to writing and publishing books on Amazon so I can leave a legacy on the page. I am blessed beyond measure.”