Tuesdays are my least favorite of days. The freshness from the weekend is gone, sapped up by Monday, and the distance you still need to travel is greater then the distance you’ve already come. It seemed fitting that I turned 35 on a Tuesday. On the cusp of middle age, but not quite to the half-way point. I’m far enough along in life that my energy is somewhat used up, at least compared to my teenage years and my twenties. So this year on my birthday, I decided to take some time to recharge a bit. I woke up at 6:30am, and with latte and pen in hand, I watched the sun rise.
You can measure time by color during a sunrise.
It starts with the palest yellow — just enough to distinguish between the black earth and grey sky. This yellow is a promise of possibility, nothing more. The sun will rise, no doubt, but since the sky and clouds are both grey, there’s no way to tell how bright the day will be. An infant is the same. When we’re born, we can’t walk, but we have legs. We can’t talk, but we have tongues and vocal cords. We lack vision, but we have eyes. We can’t yet comprehend the world around us, but we have a brain filled with neurons ready to make the connections that lead to understanding. These things will happen — the walking, the talking, the seeing, the understanding. But where we go, what we say, how closely we look, and how hard we think — these are yet to be decided.
As an orange sliver pushes the yellow out of the way, you can begin to see the earth beyond the black. The sky remains grey, but the clouds now absorb a purple hue. At this point, nothing is quite what it seems, but you can make out the different parts. I think of toddlers during this moment. They know who their parents are but not what a parent is. They see the parts but not the whole. Their world exists in simple nouns and verbs without the connecting structure of grammar. It’s a world of objects without definitions, without connections.
Next, the clouds begin to glow red, marbled with the loitering purple. Their brightness turns the whole world pink. For the first time you can see your surroundings. Everything is slightly off color, but the trees, the grass, the houses, the roads, and the few cars are unmistakable. The sky catches the first blue we normally think of skies as being, but with a pastel purity to make you think of art instead of nature. When you look around during this rose-hued moment of the sunrise , you’ll understand how a child sees the world.
Any moment now the sun will crown. A silvery gold prelude emerges just before. More striking are the clouds. No longer are they merely illuminated. They lose the artificial colors and begin to reflect. Shining gold above the horizon, they drive away the pink and begin to offer the world a true light, though slightly dimmed. It reminds me of the time when I began to see there was more than what my parents or my teachers said was true. This wasn’t because they were being deceptive or stupid. I simply had different questions from them. Questions they had not thought to ask and therefore had no answers to.
Finally, gradually, the gold in the sky begins to focus tighter and tighter. The gold drains from the clouds and they begin to robe themselves in their natural white. The gold falls in on itself, until it bursts forth in an explosion of light the moment the sun catches the edge of the earth. The sun’s movement becomes obvious compared against the stationary horizon. And for a few brief seconds, if you hold still, you can feel the earth turn.
And in this moment, when I feel the rush of the earth spinning on it’s axis, I’m reminded that birthdays are sacred. When we celebrate a birthday, we’re really celebrating the fact that a person exists. Each soul brought into the world changes the world. Each soul will create new ideas, build new things, for better or for worse. It is only through our individuality that we can shape the world. If we are all the same, if we are truly replaceable parts in the machine we call society, then there is nothing I could offer you that you couldn’t do yourself and vice versa. If we are not individuals, if we don’t each possess unique skills, views, ideas, and values, there’d be no purpose in celebrating birthdays.
As the sun continues to inch its way over the horizon soaking up the remaining color in the clouds, I take heart in the fact that we do celebrate birthdays. Even in a world filled with the pressure to conform, to go with the flow, to go along to get along — I smile that there is still a part of us that acknowledges that we are all unique. I smile for the people who recognize that our power stems from our differences. I smile for those that understand that it is only because we are different that either one of us has anything to offer the other. I smile for those that know that, before we can offer anything, we must must first create something worth being received.
I smile when I see these truths shine from every sunrise. I smile knowing the things I create can only be created by me, just like the things you create can only be created by you. Yes, others play a part in the provision of raw materials — previously existing ideas or goods. Yet the the act of transforming that material into new ideas, new goods is up to the individual. It is up to me and you. I smile because I can look back and say, “I created that.” And I smile because I know that what I create can become the raw material for someone else’s creation. I smile the way the sun does after it gathers the gold from the sky and rises as its fully formed self to light not just today’s world but also tomorrow’s golden clouds.
Launch your own filament in the comments below.