I’ve been fortunate the past ten years or so since I started teaching in Bloomfield, New York, my morning commute takes me essentially due east. So, for the first few months of the year and the last few months – those which bookend all those jet-black, western New York mornings after daylight savings time – I’m driving into the sunrise. While some days the road glare gets a bit hard to face, most days driving east into the sunrise provides me with the most breathtaking views, and a steady stream of daily encouragement, more than I’d have anticipated a commute could provide.
No matter what the stresses of the morning, how fraught with anxiety or frustration, or the highs and lows of the night before, I pull out onto Route 20 and point my car east, toward the sunrise, and everything changes. As the calendar has transformed the late summer into the heart of fall this past month, I’ve been witness to a myriad of wondrous sights. Some days the sun dances on tip-toes over the tops of the trees at the horizon line. Others, the distant Bristol hills are shrouded in a gauzy haze. On cloudy mornings, the pink-orange sunglow peeks abashed through a white bank of clouds. On foggy days, the mist floats wispy and tender up out of the roadside hollows. As I whizz past the corn fields, the sunrise illumines the stalks like rows and rows of yellow candles.
And it’s all lovely, so lovely, every day different. And I’m reminded, again, and again, that no matter how bleak or dark the night has been, the sun rises, and there’s beauty to behold. Watching the sunrise has the necessary effect of bypassing my conscious mind, which would often pile claim upon claim in support of the premise that disorder and brokenness are all there are. But as my eyes take in the beauty before me, I forget all of that.
It seems to me that there are life experiences which function for me in the same way this sunrise does on a morning when staring forward at the day, or backward at the night before, is daunting enough to drive me into a place of anxiety, or despair. Last month, I went to see a local production of the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical In the Heights, a memoir of Miranda’s own upbringing in the culturally diverse Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. It was a performance so joyous and heartfelt I could only describe it to a friend as “a confetti cannon inside my soul.” It was the only metaphor I could reach for at the time. But I stand by it. With its celebration of dreams, the irrepressible spirit of newcomers to our nation, and its exuberant dance numbers, it lit me up from the inside, as I sat parked in my seat in the sixth row.
As the second act opens, the characters Nina and Benny sing a tender duet called “Sunrise.” The neighborhood has been plunged into darkness after a power failure, and they’re waiting in the dark, their room lit by candles. And they sing the chorus together, in harmony: “Anything at all can happen/Just before the sunrise.”
It’s true, really. The sunrise is a daily reminder that though all may not be well, all will be well. And, like the actual sunrise, these Sunrise Moments, like hearing the snap and pop of twigs in a backyard bonfire, lighting candles for a family dinner, or the stories we fill our home with, each one a candle against the darkness. Who can’t be dazzled when laughing aloud at the antics of Grandma Dowdel in Richard Peck’s A Long Way From Chicago? What chance does darkness have against the scene at the end of Finding Dory when that little lost fish breathlessly searches the murky ocean floor for her parents, and finally finds the trail of shells that leads her home? Stories, and the stories our homes are telling, can function as gleaming, breathtaking reminders that the light has come, the light has won, and the story will end with the light shining for all eternity.
We who are people of faith, of the Good, Big Story, have the truth and life inside our hearts. But we also need regular reminders of this truth. What little sunrises can we conjure in our lives, and in our homes? When can we take the time to deliberately point ourselves east? Then, we can witness the breathtaking glory of a promise kept, another day where night lost and day won.