AP Photo by Charlie Riedel/A statue in Kansas City, Missouri, stands in the foreground as Saturn, top, and Jupiter, below, are seen after sunset on Dec. 18. By Monday, the two planets had drawn closer to each other in a "great conjunction" for the first time since the Middle Ages.

The dark winter is now trending toward spring. The planets tell us so.

Last week, many of us gazed into the sky as Jupiter and Saturn looked as though they might collide in the cold sky of Monday's 2020 winter solstice.

Although those planets — the largest in our solar system — remained millions of miles apart, from here and with no telephoto lens, they looked to be within a dime's width of each other.

But, oh, the promise that moment held. Like a rainbow after a violent storm, it reminded us that the darkness we're coming through is ebbing. That darkness is giving way to the light.

Monday was the longest night of the year, but for the next six months, each day will lengthen slightly and night will fade faster on the things we've endured in this lonely year of COVID lock-downs, work-at-home stints, social distancing and smiles hidden behind dreaded-but-needed, ever-present masks.

The light is returning. And with the promise of Saturn and Jupiter coming together on the solstice despite their quiet, solitary orbits, so, too, will some semblance of our own normalcy — our own return to coming together.

We've missed so much.

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AP Photo by Charlie Riedel/People are silhouetted against the sky at dusk as they watch the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter on Monday in Edgerton, Kansas. The two planets are in their closest observable alignment since 1226.

* Remember when we could travel? Could just jump in the car on a wild hair and without a care go to dinner in a crowded, happy, noisy restaurant? Remember when we could plan a trip by plane to some busy city or sandy beach? Not in 2020. This year, just going to stand in line to cast a vote felt like an exhilarating trip to somewhere special.

* Remember when we zigzagged from store to store in the mall as we chatted together and shopped for holidays or just any day — holding a blouse or jacket up to our sister's or friend's shoulders to see the look?

* Remember the jostle and smiling jabs of the office staff meeting? The firm handshakes with visitors or newcomers?

* Remember when our large gaggle of family and friends could easily pile, carefree and guffawing, into our kitchens for holiday meals or Friday night parties?

* Remember when we didn't think for a nanosecond about hugging them? Giving them a casual touch on the arm when they made us laugh.

* Remember getting those hugs and receiving those gentle touching gestures?

When the planets seemed to collide, we were reminded of how much we've missed. But we also felt the promise of renewal — that we will again, as the nights climb out of darkness and into the light of spring and summer, be vaccinated, reinvigorated and hug and hug.

In the meantime, as we keep our masks on and our space safely distanced by the six feet we've come to know by heart, we'll continue to appreciate some things we thought little of before the novel coronavirus (and poison politics) turned our lives inside out.

* The Gig. Chattanooga's reliable Wi-Fi has kept many of us working, studying and somewhat connected. No, it's not the same as the real, in-person thing. But, yeah, it's better than nothing. (Remember when we didn't have to say so often that something is better than nothing?)

* Upstart businesses. The entrepreneurial spirit is an amazing thing, and through our growing use of Wi-Fi, we've met the owners and workers of small businesses finding their way to prosperity even — no, especially — in a pandemic: The shoppers and delivery folks of firms like Instacart, and independent shoppers for plenty of curb-side store pickups.

* Zoom and Facebook live. Even grandparents have became proficient with these technologies. And where have virtual doctor visits been all of our lives?

* News. Especially local news, collected and brought to you by local journalists who brave the virus to do everything from exit-polling at local voting places to showing you — via live stream on that now all-important Wi-Fi (and in print the old fashioned way) everything from the faces of health care workers fighting COVID to the protests that shook our streets and oddly brought our diverse communities closer together last summer.

* Empathy. Just look at the Times Free Press's Neediest Cases charity: This year donors already have given more than $51,000, a near record and the giving will continue through Dec. 31.

* Flowers and trees. Birds and bugs. Now we really look at them. We even look them up and learn about them. For some, COVID marked the first time we'd been home long enough to notice what lives with and around us — like the ants (Tapinoma sessile) in the potted fig (Ficus benjamina), or the pair of birds (Eastern phoebes) that nested under the porch overhang and above the cranesbill (Geranium maculatum). See, COVID-19 has had some silver linings.

And, speaking of things to appreciate:

* Our own lives. Being alive to see the planets nearly collide — something that hasn't happened like this since Jupiter and Saturn came close in the year 1226 in the Middle Ages. What's more, being alive still in the dark winter of this virus.

Let's take this moment of hope to continue staying safe as we watch the light — and spring — return.