Summer solstice: the year's circus act

Posted on 6.19.2015 by Patrick Swanson


Twice every year we have the opportunity to celebrate the solstices. The term derives from the Latin words, sol and sistere which translate as "the sun" and "to stand still."

For a couple of years I worked with Circus Flora, a wonderful old-world, one-ring circus created for Giancarlo Menotti's Spoleto Festival in Charleston S.C. It starred Flora, (a young African elephant orphaned by practitioners of the ivory trade) along with a team of beautiful heavy horses, acrobats, a gentle dog act and a family of musical clowns who could make a slap and a pair of dropped trousers into poetry. But the big finale of the circus featured a flying trapeze act. I have a picture of my one-year-old daughter, her eyes as big as saucers, head tilted towards the roof of the tent along with the entire audience following every move of the acrobats who flew through the air. It was in a literal sense, breathtaking.

Later, after watching the performances over and over (sometimes three times a day) I realized that all the important things in flying trapeze happen in that moment when the breath of the audience is suspended. Learning the physics of a trapeze swing discloses the magical stasis point where the velocity is at zero before the backswing begins. In that moment change is possible. If you really practice, change is graceful.

If the solstice is a global version of this magic moment then perhaps all those New Year resolutions that we made in winter had their genesis in this instant of possibility. Perhaps if this winter's resolutions have fizzled out we can have another go at Midsummer. Perhaps if we can learn the rhythms of life's cycles we can make the right moves at the right times. Shakespeare is pretty eloquent on the subject:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries."

Perhaps if we are bold, we can actually fly like the trapeze artists. Just saying.

Happy Summer Solstice!