Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Not Longing for the Longest Day

TAC‘s weekend correspondent is now a creature of the night.

Summer flowers on Solstice
Credit: Moritz Frankenberg/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

“In two weeks it’ll be the longest day of the year,” says Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

“Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it?” Daisy continues in a memorable display of her mirthful nonchalance. “I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.”


Speaking for myself, I would gladly miss the longest day of the year, which, this year, falls on Thursday, June 20th—the date of the summer solstice.

My studied antipathy is not likely to be the common reaction in our decadent civilization, which seeks always to extend the available hours to carouse, socialize and make merry. Next week, if they think to remember the summer solstice, most people will undoubtedly welcome this celebration of the prolongation of daylight. They will use the day as an excuse to stretch out their preferred form of summertime exuberance; perhaps they will barbeque, invite friends over for drinks or simply take a long walk.

This year, however, the summer solstice holds no such appeal for me. In fact, all spring, I have greeted the gradual lengthening of the days as I would a rude awakening from a peaceful slumber: a blast of sunlight coming through the shades far too early in the morning.

My reasons are entirely personal: Last year, on September 28th, my mother died of cancer. It occurred to me, even on that day, that she departed the world at the same time that the world itself was preparing for hibernation and dormancy. This was not distressing but consoling: As I reckoned with my feelings of woe, I watched the days become shorter, darker, grimmer. My mood was matched by the absence of light outside. It was a profound, even visceral illustration of the pathetic fallacy.

Although I saw the irrationality of associating the change in seasons with my anguish, I welcomed the cloak of evening for practical reasons, too. The early arrival of night made it less likely that, when running errands, I would encounter a friend or acquaintance who might ask about my mother. I took to doing grocery-shopping past dark. I also confess to feelings of resentment on behalf of my mother: Since she was no longer able to experience or enjoy the world, it seemed fitting that, each day, the world wound down just a bit earlier. 


My embrace of the night was not entirely without precedent. My mother told me that I was born on a stormy night, a fluke that she linked to my preference, later in life, for the sort of overcast weather that Woody Allen is so famous for filming in his movies. Like the dark, the rain forms a protective barrier that can be cozy and consoling. Throughout my writing career, I have found that I work best at night; the mind concentrates when the surrounding world is literally blotted out. There is infinite wisdom in something the marvelous writer Laurie Colwin wrote in her book Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen: “To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.” Who among us does not take some pleasure in cocooning? 

Even so, I had never relied upon the night as I did last fall. As I stayed inside during those days of increasingly fleeting daylight, I felt strangely understood by the natural world. Few friends or family members comprehended my grief, or even tried to, but somehow the sun knew not to overstay its welcome. Daytime is full of bright, vivid, distracting things that compete for our attention, but the evening, in its emptiness, is a tabula rasa—perfect for projections of grief like my own.

Of course, I understood that this communion would be short-lived. My mother was gone forever, but the daylight hours would eventually mount their annual comeback. After the winter solstice, when the days started to regain their length, I recognized that the world would soon cease cooperating with my sorrow. Stubbornly, the sun was coming back in all its piercing, blinding magnificence. I realized I was, at last, on my own: the night would not be there to keep me company starting at 5:30 or 6 o’clock but would delay its arrival until 8:30 or 9.

So here we are: The longest day of the year is at last upon us, and I plan to forget it on purpose. Unlike Daisy Buchanan, my inattentiveness is not a matter of the apathy of the idle rich but the sadness of the profoundly bereft.  

Of course, I dread the anniversary of my mother’s death in three months, but at least I know that, when the awful day arrives, the daylight will again be waning. That may seem like small comfort, but when you are sad, it is better than nothing.