Terry Prone: Today is the shortest day of the year - may it mark an end to dark times
TODAY is the shortest day of the year. Brightness sandwiched between darkness, sunshine allocated the briefest time before dusk makes everything colder and bleaker.
The cold is more than temperature: we shiver in anticipation of how bad next year is going to be for each of us, in terms of jobs, money and education.
The bleakness is more than lack of colour: we seem to have spent weeks with our heads down, looking at the ice at our feet, scared of complicating our problems with a broken wrist.
In one sense, it's welcome, this shortest day that's like a barrier, allowing us to close off a bad year.
Because it was a bad year, no doubt about it. 2010 was the year when the world went out of our control, when nothing we believed in stayed true, when panic and petty cutbacks replaced optimistic expectations and a freely used credit card.
It has been the year of pain and useless protest, of disappointment and pointless rage.
We thought we were in charge.
Now we know we're not.
We believed we could depend on some things, be certain about some things. 2010 taught us that most of our most cherished certainties no longer exist.
The only certainties we now have belong to nature. Tomorrow, for example, it is certain that the day will be longer than today. Only slightly longer. But longer, nonetheless. The day after will be longer still, leading us with a sure hand towards springtime, towards spells of sunshine on our shoulders, towards flowers blooming, the dawn chorus and the hope that we can start afresh.
Not that we need to actually start afresh. We're doing some things right. Our exporters are playing a blinder.
Furthermore the indications are that, during the property bubble years, we may have missed opportunities that are still out there, if we get our act together.
The Amarach research company recently published a survey they conducted into what Irish Americans might buy from us, and what they found was hugely encouraging. We may be depressed about our prospects.
The Diaspora, the people who have already left Ireland for one reason or another, are not at all depressed. They may not have paid that much attention to all that stuff about loss of sovereignty and tough budgets for years to come. They're simply interested in our products and our services. Take one example at random: education.
"There is a ripe market for marketing Irish education in the US," says Amarach. "For both on-the-ground training and distance learning."
And, just in case we might miss the significant of its findings, the front page of the Amarach survey quotes Alexander Graham Bell.
"Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is opening," was what he said.
It's an important point. Particularly for Ireland on this shortest of days. Because we've spent the past year and more in an orgy of rage and blame, despair and disappointment, as if by constantly expressing how badly we've been hurt, we might be able to reverse the damage, even though we know nothing will reverse the damage except time and effort.
But the essentials continue, unchanged. Couples fell in love, this past year, and floated past the economic miseries, buoyed up by their faith in each other. Babies were born and the arrival of each one was a family miracle.
The beaches were rediscovered during the summer. The woods are still lovely, dark and deep, and for children at least, the snow was a glorious gift.
Maybe the shortest day of the year happens this week so that we don't wait until January the first to affirm our faith in the future.
Maybe it's a reminder that, by Christmas Day, we're well started on the journey to the new year, with its untouched possibilities.
And hopes. And dreams.