The word halcyon has been on my mind again, probably because it is summer and summer feels less frenetic than the rest of the year. I’m not sure why this is but it probably has to do with the fact that we take more vacation time, we sit out on the deck longer at night doing nothing in particular, and we don’t have school obligations to contend with.
Since I’m easing back into regular life after some vacation time with family, I thought it was a good time to reshare this blog post from the archives. I hope you enjoy it.
Halcyon, when used as an adjective, denotes a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful.
Isn’t that lovely?
The word is pronounced hal-sē-en (hal-see-en).
I ran across the word halcyon in two different books last week and did not know what the word meant when used as an adjective. When it is used as a noun it refers to a bird.
One of the books was a children’s book, so that prompted me to pause and question the depth of my vocabulary. How many words DO I use in a day?
Also, this is the second time I’ve read this particular children’s book out loud to my kids, so where was my curiosity for the meaning of the word the first time?
Frankly, curiosity was probably trumped by exhaustion when I read the book the first time. That often happens when you are a mom reading to your kids at bedtime.
But this time was different. This time we were in full summer mode, which means we had extra time on our hands. I was also reading the book at 11 a.m., not 8 p.m.
There are morning people. There are night owls.
Oh, I’m neither of those.
I’m a mid-day person.
And you can’t convince me that’s not a thing.
We could have googled the definition of halcyon, but that would be too quick.
Remember? Summer mode?
Time to go old school.
Me: Get the dictionary. Please.
10-year-old: The what?
Me: I know you know what a dictionary is.
Me: That book with all the words getting dusty on your bookshelf.
10-year-old: But why? Can’t we look it up on your phone? Is it time for lunch yet? Can I have a snack? Can I have extra time to play Fortnite today?
Me: This is precisely why.
As it turns out, the student dictionary my son had on his bookshelf did not contain the word halcyon. Perhaps this explains a lot about kids today.
However, Webster’s New Ideal Dictionary from 1973 did have an abbreviated meaning of halcyon describing it as calm, peaceful, happy, or golden.
Our search did not stop there.
It was in a worn and tattered copy of The Modern Encyclopedia from 1935 where we hit real pay dirt.
It described halcyon days as a “phrase signifying a period of peace, derived from the ancient designation for the seven days preceding and following the shortest day of the year. The ancient belief was that during this period, while the halcyon bird or kingfisher was breeding, there were no storms at sea.”
Again, isn’t that lovely?
I’ve been pondering the word halcyon ever since that enlightened moment.
It’s common for society to view periods in the past nostalgically.
However, I have a cynical streak, so I tend to think that, objectively speaking, the past isn’t inherently better than the present. In many cases, it was downright cruel and terrifying.
It’s just that we view some memories of the past selectively or through rose-colored glasses or through the filter of childhood innocence. Through that lens, we consider the past a simpler time.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that outlook, but it’s definitely not a complete picture.
When I think back on my own halcyon days they are less a stretch of time and more a cluster of moments.
Snippets of time that I’d like to freeze.
The way my babies snuggled into my neck.
The first time my children put their arms around me and hugged me tight.
The moment it really sank in that Handy Husband and I had become Mr. and Mrs.
All the giggles my childhood best friend and I shared over cups of cocoa.
Waking up as a kid at Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Saturday morning.
How my parents came to every single one of my basketball games, recitals, and concerts.
Friday nights hanging out with friends on the deck.
The feeling of completeness when my family is all under the same roof at the end of the day.
Every time I laughed until I cried and then laughed some more.
Last night when I stepped outside to watch the sun sink low on the horizon.
Perhaps it is my stage in life, but I noticed that none of my halcyon moments are related to my professional accomplishments. I’ve been my own boss and I’ve climbed the corporate ladder knocking off goals left and right. I’ve made more money than I knew what to do with at the time. I’ve met famous people. I’ve been on tv and radio and had my work published.
Did I enjoy those professional moments? Sure!
Did I work hard to earn those accolades? Of course!
Were they important to me at the time? Yes.
But were they idyllically happy and peaceful?
And they certainly won’t be the last thing on my mind when I leave this earth.
P.S. The children’s book we were rereading is called A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd and it is one of the best books (children’s or otherwise) I’ve ever read. Her second book The Key to Extraordinary is equally as good and made me cry buckets of tears.
Thank you for spending part of your day with me. I hope today’s post made you smile or at least gave you something to ponder. Here are some other posts you might enjoy.
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