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Halcyon days

Halcyon days

by Stephanie on June 22, 2013

These frosty June nights are biting. They numb my fingers and turn my lips blue. I drink mug after mug of hot water, wrap myself in shawls and scarves and sit at my desk with a heat pack slid under my thighs, trying to ward off the inertia that comes from icy skin and viscid blood. My electricity bill has done enough damage.

Halcyon is now seen only in the idiom “the halcyon days” although it was once used as a verb. It is generally used as referring to days distant and more pleasant, shrouded in the contentment of selective memory.  Properly used, it refers to the 14 days of calm weather at sea which, according to Greek legend, interrupt the storms of mid-Winter. It comes from hals (salt, or the sea) and kuo (to brood on).  According to Greek legend, the kingfisher makes its nest on the water and hatches its eggs during the 14 days of calm at mid-Winter. Properly used, halcyon means the tranquil spell surrounding the Winter solstice. In the southern hemisphere, that is on 20-21 June.

I rode along the creek in the dark last night, blue-white headlamp flashing across the water, still as glass. And I thought, if there is no soul and I am simply body, then where does love come from?

Halcyon was the daughter of Neptune, keeper of the seas. She fell in love with Ceyx, the mortal king of Thessaly. Ceyx went to sea at mid-Winter and was shipwrecked. His body was washed ashore, where Halcyon found it. Distracted by grief, she took his corpse into the water, wishing for death to reunite them. But the gods took pity on her and turned the two of them into kingfishers. 

If love is reducible to hormones and proximity, and romance to social context and chance; if my instincts are socialised and my thought patterns so potentially malleable, then what impacts do the changes in my body make? And if my physical responses are so easily manipulated by chemical-in-chemical-out, how do I evaluate the difference between how I feel now on medication to how I felt without it? Which feelings are real? What can I trust?

Out on the stormy seas, the two kingfishers mated, and made a nest on the sea. Neptune, concerned for his grandchildren, stilled the waves whilst the eggs hatched. The sea was still for 14 days – the halcyon days. 

If I don’t know which of my feelings to trust, how can I possibly ever know myself? And how on earth can I know what will make me happy?

 

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