Whenever I go home to Florida, I make sure to watch at least one sunrise on the beach. It’s a natural balm to an itchy nervous system.
It also acts as a felt metaphor, with the impact absorbed first while the brain catches up with the words a moment later.
It’s paradoxical, because the sun rises every day – one of a countless many – and yet, each one is subtly different and irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind. Like a human life. Or a moment in time.
A sunrise is no less beautiful or peaceful behind a cloudy sky. The clouds may change its appearance, which only makes it more distinctive.
So I can rise also, each morning my body allows, reflecting the clouds or blazing in the clearest of skies.
When not on a family holiday on a white sand beach – that is to say, 99% of the time – I try to set my eyes on a sunset most days. On the train from work in spring and autumn, from the office in winter, or as I close the bedroom curtains upstairs in the summer. This is the same sunset (and yet, a sunset like no other) that set over the Thames for Shakespeare, cast long shadows at a newly-erected Stonehenge, saw creatures climb from the oceans onto land for the first time in Earth’s history.
We often think of perspective still within the lens of a human life. Feeling upset by a perceived slight from an acquaintance, and realising the futility of this when the call comes that your mother has cancer. Or looking up from a minor administrative task in a long line of others to see your children are suddenly strangers with body odour, and you wonder where the time has gone and what’s it all for.
But the perspective I feel watching the sun rising or setting reminds me I am part of something much greater. The Earth has been revolving for much longer.
I’m reminded of a line in Chaim Potok’s The Chosen:
Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much, if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye?…I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing; but the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing; but the man who lives the span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning- that, I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here.
I, too, want to be worthy of rest. The sun reminds me of the speed by which a human life burns itself out. A blink of an eye. That doesn’t mean there is no meaning. Or hope. Far from it.
But it reminds me that my meaning is linked up with the rest of Earth – humanity, yes, but also the wider planet. I am not separate to the sun. The moon affects my ovaries. The trees provide me the oxygen I need in my air. The sun affects my body’s chemistry and wakes me in the morning and sends me to sleep in the darkness, just as it affects the birds’ body chemistry and signals the females to start laying eggs in the longer light of spring.
The sun rise reminds me to think beyond myself, and my human-scaled life, and to see the connections.