Despite two years of calculating a student’s velocity just before he splashes into a pool of sharks after being shot out of a canon from the top of a 105-foot cliff (yes, Mr. Littleton adored his physics students), I’ve never been into science. I can do it, sure, but would I volunteer to pass my spare time contemplating the half-life of uranium? No, never. And that’s why, after years of avoiding it, I got stuck taking a freshman-level general education course on planetary science my second-to-last semester of college.
I frowned as I approached the classroom on the first day of school. Underclassmen surrounded me. I grimaced at their beyond-bootie shorts and bro tanks. I listened as they chatted about what happened at Saturday night’s pre-game, who almost got an MIP, rush, football. This, I thought, is going to be miserable.
Then the classroom doors opened and we filed in. The course, it turns out, is held in the planetarium. We all sat down in large, well-cushioned chairs that tilt back a few degrees so that you can look up at the ceiling of the spherical room. The lights were dimmed and the professor’s presentation illuminated the ceiling.
As the professor began to explain his syllabus, I learned that this class would not be a typical gen-ed. We would not be sitting passively in our seats and listening to him ramble, then exiting and letting all he said fly out of our minds until the following week. Instead, we would be going out at night to observe the moon and the planets. We would experience demonstrations in the planetarium, where the ceiling turns into a perfect image of the night sky. And we would be doing something called the “Sun Project.”
The Sun Project requires us to observe 8 sunrises and 8 sunsets, each about one week apart from another. We have to take a picture of ourselves at our observing site (to prove it’s us taking the pictures), then snap a photo of the sun just before it rises over the mountains or dips below the horizon.
My first reaction to the Sun Project was something like, “You mean I have to be awake, presentable enough for a photo, and capable of driving all before the sunrise? Fat chance.” My next thought was to drop the class. But I chased this negativity away and focused on the opportunity that my professor had handed me: I am required to enjoy on a weekly basis two of the most remarkable, most beautiful natural phenomena on Earth.
So, on Wednesday mornings I wake up around 5:55 to roll out of bed and into my car, disheveled and puffy-eyed from sleep. I drive, racing the sun, to the bridge that crosses the Rillito River at Campbell and River. I park in the empty Trader Joe’s lot and cross to the east side of the street to wait for the sun to climb over the mountain tops.
On these mornings, the world seems a different place, suspended somewhere between sleep and waking. The air is cool and damp. The only sound is the occasional passing car and the breathless conversations of joggers who run by along the river bank.
Each time I am there inhaling the fresh, pure morning air, I think to myself that this moment is sacred.
Then the first rays of sun come streaming over the peaks. I feel their warmth on my skin and squint at the horizon as the air turns from hazy blue to dusty gold. Now, the world is completely awake, and there is no more room for dreaming. The last lingering star winks before the sun envelops its sparkle. The world turns.
Every time I greet the sun now, I am reminded that I am rotating and that the earth I stand on is in orbit. I think about the endless cycle of day and night that gives birth to new opportunity, though it follows the same path and repeats the same pattern with each passing day. Every time the sun rises above the horizon, we are given the chance to reset and recalibrate. To try again if we must, and to try anew. The world is born again, though from the same womb.
Greet the sun. Embrace the day. Invite the new. And take solace in knowing that tomorrow will come, again.
Smiles and all the best,