When my family took trips to visit my Aunt Pat in San Felipe, Mexico, I founded a personal tradition of watching the sunrise when I travel. The Sea of Cortez begs to be visited at daybreak. I set my alarm clock for the wee hours and walked the dirt road between the houses towards the ocean. At this hour, it was so dark that I couldn’t even make out the white lines of the gentle breaking waves. Black turned gray and by the time the sun peeked above the horizon, the sky had changed color several times. Typically, by the time I got home, no one had moved.
Dad joined me sometimes, entering the living room of the house, in silence, to see if I had really gotten up as we had planned. If we spoke while watching the sunrise, it was only in low voices.
You get to know a place in a different way when it sleeps, perhaps how a mother knows her child just by watching her breathe in and out. Intimacy results from the need to listen more carefully.
Recently, I found myself in Athens for a workshop that our team had organized for 90 educators from 63 different countries. Our planning team arrived a few days early to sort out the details.
Being in Athens is certainly glamorous, but I found myself a bit restless, working with a whole unexplored city right outside our hotel doors. Yet I also knew I was lucky that at night we could venture a few blocks away for dinner in an amazing city. The view was also a thousand times better than the brick wall I see from my office window in Chico.
Several mornings that week, I found an outdoor perch overlooking the back of the Parthenon. The old city center is built around the Acropolis, which towers over hotels, shops and transport stations that vibrate when the sun is directly overhead.
At the first light of day, the temple of Athena sits in relative silence, on the lookout.
The sun’s rays have been colliding with these columns for 2,500 years. My few moments of a new day reminded me of how I feel facing the ocean – insignificant in a good way.
Even a quiet town speaks. As I watched the light coming over the city of 3 million, I heard the sound of garbage trucks squeezing their way through the narrow streets. Headlights reflected like a strobe light, flashing as taxis took quick turns for early morning trips.
During the day, the streets of this tourist area were crowded with people walking cautiously along the marble pavements, speaking most of the mainland languages. At first light no spoken word can be heard and the architecture looks clean and new.
Being away from our day-to-day can be a good reminder that it only takes a few minutes to ask for and receive complete clarity, even though you know things will get hazy again as soon as the first issues of the day arise.
The following days would prove to be very busy and the workshop productive. I’m glad I savored this resolution to travel to observe the subtle changes of those early mornings. By the time the colors of the rows of houses had changed from soft blue to amber to pink and white, the morning shift was setting the tables in our hotel restaurant, and the tinkling of the silverware took me back to my room to get dressed for breakfast.
The first light is like youth, at its most beautiful and lasting only briefly.