We can only see the sunset in the summer. The sun retreats back over the land in the fall and winter and then creeps slowly back over the water in the spring. Each night, people who live in our neighborhood on Lake Ontario, stop whatever they are doing and come out of their houses to watch the sunset. It’s different every time.
Like most people, I learned about space and our solar system in school. At the time, it was like most other lessons. We memorized the names and orders of the planets. We were taught about orbits, the earth’s tilt, the gravitational pull, and how the moon affects the tides. The sun was simply a star at the center of our solar system.
My physic professor in college gave me a new and deep appreciation for the solar system. He was clearly in awe of the sun and how it provided what we needed to exist. Every time he talked about the energy from the sun he sounded like a priest invoking a special prayer. This star was necessary for our survival. We knew that intellectually but he made us understand it in a more visceral way. Feel the warmth on your skin he would say. Look at the first light of the day, the last light at night. Really look! He would plead with us to take a moment and let our minds take in the enormity of space and our place in it traveling around the star we call the sun.
I love the rhythm of the rising and the setting. The light that wakes us up in the morning and calls us to action and the receding light at night that sends us off to sleep in the comfort of darkness.
I’m grateful I live in a spot that allows me to witness this miracle each day. It reminds me that we are part of something so much greater than ourselves. Our star is just one of the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way. How can we possibly wrap our minds around that fact?
In what feels like a chaotic and challenging time, I know that I can count on the sun to go down and night and come up in the morning and that gives me hope. This is an order we did not create and maybe that means we cannot destroy it.
I can still hear the intensity of my professor’s voice pleading with the class to really look at the sun. Now that I’m much older, I think he was trying to help us see beyond ourselves. He helped me think about the vast expanse of interstellar space and I think about the orderly solar system that has allowed the human race to live and move and have our being and I am profoundly grateful that I get to have this experience of life. I experience my professor’s sense of awe and wonder every night that I get to see the setting of the sun secure in the knowing that tomorrow it will reappear. Life will go on and for those of us who are still here, each day becomes an opportunity to make things better.