Gray light seeps into the darkness. Ice glistens at the coldest hour of the day.
A breath--too cold but bringing a whisper of freedom.
Then a ribbon of brilliance along the horizon.
A quickened heartbeat.
Finally color--first pink, then peach and gold, spilling ever more rapidly, like cascading joyful music, like the chatter of children and birds, like waterfalls. The sky lights up.
Ice crystals glitter and sparkle. Every branch is outlined in light, the earth bright and crackling. Frozen mist curls in the low places, painting pictures of another world. The first footprints are precious but also a desecration. There's an urge to dance but cold muscles refuse.
This is sunrise in winter. The night is long and the sun is unnaturally, painfully bright. The nature of sunrise is to be too bright.
It is also its nature to be full of promise. There is a sense at the hour of daybreak that all things are possible. Goodwill and hope come swiftly, especially if there's coffee.
We promise ourselves that things will go well today. We plan work and play, eager to cram in more than can possibly be accomplished in the hours ahead. Like New Year's resolutions, the plans of dawn are full of conviction and vigor before the lazy slug-a-beds of duties and troubles reawaken a little later.
This moment of fresh enthusiasm is necessary to the day, just as it is necessary to the year.
In some circles, it has become fashionable to ridicule New Year's resolutions. "We're all adults here after all. We know that people don't really improve their habits. They start but they don't last."
It's the nature of sunrise to be too bright, too enthusiastic and ultimately illusive.
And yet, there is one thing that "us grown-ups" tend to forget. It is also the nature of sunrise to be endlessly recurring. Sunrise may be just one moment and it's hope may be fleeting.
But it always comes back. And that is not fleeting.
People don't improve their habits in one sunrise or one New Year's resolution. But they do in a hundred sunrises or a thousand.
Five years ago, I started to change my habits. I got up early to do spiritual practice and meditation. At first it only happened sometimes. I tried to get up too early and greedily get many other things done before the children woke up and the lack of sleep brought me to my knees.
I sprinted and faltered--for months at a time. I started again and again.
Now I have been getting up just a half hour early for three years. I've missed a few days due to acute illnesses but I can count those on my fingers.
These past three years have been among the hardest I've lived through, due to circumstances beyond my control. I don't know how I would have made it this far without those early morning moments of peace.
I am deeply thankful for sunrises, particularly that they reliably return and never abandon me.