Happy Perihelion! : last year’s journey around the sun

Today, January 2, 2021, is perihelion. This is the closest that the earth gets to the sun in its elliptical orbit. We are more than 3 million miles closer to the sun than we are on July 4th. Our journey around the sun covered a staggering 584 million miles, since the last perihelion on Jan. 3, 2020. And what a geographical journey it has been! How our lives have changed during this past orbit around the sun!

Below is a link to a post I made just after last year’s perihelion. I invite you to read it to remember what the world was like just one very long year ago.

https://wordpress.com/post/geographicaljourneys.wordpress.com/369

One might think that we would be closer to the sun during the hottest time of year. However, it is sun ANGLE and not proximity to the sun that is the most important aspect controlling our seasons. In our long journey around the sun, the earth’s axis is tilted about 23.5 degrees from the vertical. That same tilt is maintained throughout the orbit. Because of the parallelism of the axis from the plane of orbit, we in the northern hemisphere are tilted away from the direct rays of the sun when we are closer to it. While we are in winter, the Southern Hemisphere is in their summer.

While the above diagram shows the path of our orbit, it does not show the parallelism of the earth’s axis. The diagram below better explains the seasons.

December 21 was the Winter solstice, the point at which the Northern Hemisphere is tilted furthest away from the sun. Many cultures celebrate this, but very few pay much attention to perihelion, which falls between Jan. 2 and 4, depending on the year. I prefer to measure a year from perihelion to perihelion instead of just using the calendar. In all of my years, this has been the craziest orbit around the sun. I bet is was for many of you readers too!

During the past orbit around our sun, we experienced conjunction of many similar past events all rolled into one year. Combine the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, the racial unrest of 1968, the food lines from the Great Depression, and the disastrous presidency of Andrew Johnson which led to his impeachment. Then roll them all into one orbit around the sun and you have the last 365.25 days that we have lived through. And we have more than that to deal with too.

Some may say that the pandemic is the cause of all of this, but I might say that it only exposed the fracture lines in our society that were already under the surface. Then, our reaction to it only exacerbated our problems. We also had some wins to celebrate, but some of them will not be known for years. We also got to see the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, which we will not be able to see again in our lifetimes.

We lost way too many people this past year, many of whom we knew and were close to us. Besides friends and family members, many of my childhood baseball idols left us this year. Lou Brock…Tom Seaver…Al Kaline…Joe Morgan…Bob Gibson…and Whitey Ford to name a few. Phil Niekro, a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves who threw a knuckleball, a pitch that I learned to throw, passed away the day after Christmas. But what of the people who were born this year who were additions and not subtractions to our community? It will take looking back through time back to 2020 to see which Nobel Peace prize recipient was born this past year. Or the person who solved the cure for cancer might have just recently arrived on our planet.

Just a couple of days ago the rest of the world said goodbye to 2020, even though we had a couple more days to go to reach perihelion. From the amount of cars parked on the side of our street and the fireworks and screams heard around the neighborhood, it seems that there were a lot of house parties. I got in the hot tub just before midnight and looked up at a sky to view fireworks from the street behind us that rivaled the municipal fireworks display of July 4. I said a silent prayer for my father-in-law who lay in a bed in Alabama in his last stages of life.

At midnight, noise erupted all around us. A man a few doors down screamed “F–K 2020!” People screamed in celebration that 2020 was now in their rear view mirror. Firecrackers popped in all directions. Clearly, there was a lot of steam to be blown off from the stress of the past year. The irony was that these young people were gathered together to do it. I suspect that the reasons for hating 2020 came from a variety of perspectives. There are a few Trump 2020 flags still flying on houses where most of the fireworks came from. Maybe the “stolen election” and the impeachment would somehow be erased by the calendar. On the other side, maybe the promise of a vaccine and the hope to return to “normal”, would somehow instantly change the world as easily as flipping the page on a calendar.

At about 12:10, Beth opened the sliding glass door and saw me sitting in the hot tub. She said she just got the call that her Dad had just passed. He had lost his wife of 66 years back in March. He was 90 years old, bedridden, and in pain. I think the timing of his passing was no coincidence. He loved his family and always looked to take care of them. Somehow, I think he willed himself to live just long enough to see them safely through this past year. He leaves behind three daughters, all of whom live in different time zones. His middle daughter was the first to bring in the New Year in Georgia. His youngest daughter in Alabama, who took care of him to the end, lived in the Central Time Zone. He had already himself made it to 2021 and was ready to pass, but held on until his oldest daughter, my wife, who lived in the Pacific Time Zone could safely make it out of 2020. At that moment, he left this planet with a blaze of fireworks, and went on the ultimate Geographical Journey; to another dimension. He lives on in our hearts and memories.

As we begin another revolution around the sun the word for this journey is “Healing”. I look forward to the day that I can hug my friends again. Until then, we may help to heal each others’ wounds by our words and by our works. Let us vow not to wait until someone passes to write words of support, but to take every opportunity to encourage and uplift one another. We never know how many more geographical journeys we will make orbiting the sun, so buckle up and make the most of this ride.

Salaam….

3 thoughts on “Happy Perihelion! : last year’s journey around the sun

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