In my first year of college, I pulled a lot of all-nighters—and not the wimpy ones where you go to sleep at 3 AM and then get a good 6 hours sleep before going to class. No, I mean staying up until the sun rose and then going to class without having slept at all. I did this because as a Political Science major I had a lot of reading to do. I have always been a good reader but a bit of a slow one, so that meant spending a lot of late hours reading, and chewing ice to stay awake.
I remember one night I finished my homework around 4:30 AM. My morning class was at 9, and I knew that 3 ½ hours sleep would end up only being worse than if I hadn’t slept at all. So, I made the decision to walk somewhere off campus and watch the sunrise. In my young man’s mind this was a good idea and I don’t know if I’d experienced a sunrise before.
I started walking toward where I knew that a little hill looked directly east, not knowing exactly where I was going. It seemed to take forever, and even though I was a young man with all of the bravado of his older teens, I was a bit afraid in the dark.
I ended up on a ridge at a little patch of grass called Fireman’s Park. It was not much more than a bench with a half-wall, but it overlooked the shipyard and docks far below and faced pretty directly east with the small hill behind me. It was a perfect place to watch the dawn of a new day.
It was still and a bit chilly and the sun took longer to light the sky than I expected, but it did eventually happen. And when it did, it was beautiful and lonely, and I knew that something special was happening. I spent time praying and singing some worship songs. It was a spiritual experience as well as a human one and I’ve never forgotten it.
What was most special about the experience for me was that in some way I was the only person in the whole world in all of human history who experienced it. Yes, there are sunrises every day in every part of the world. Every human has the opportunity to experience them without restriction. Heck, there were even other people in that city on that day who perhaps glanced toward the sun as it rose.
But there was no one else there at that park. There was no one worshipping with me and seeing what I saw. That sunrise will never happen again. There will be other sunrises, but not that one. That one was mine and mine alone.
That day in the park was before cell phone cameras; It was even before hardly anyone had cell phones. Digital photography was in its infancy. If that had happened today, it would be live-streamed on Facebook and commented on Instagram. The experience would be mine, but in many ways it would be well over-shared.
I’ve been to fireworks shows with a thousand cell phones in the air all streaming and snapping away, while I’m jerking my head back and forth trying to get a clear view as I’m thinking, “Who will ever want to see these videos anyway?” I don’t want to see a play-by-play of friends’ weddings, let alone your grainy sky-shot. I know what fireworks look like. You won’t even watch that video, yourself.
I’m not being crotchety here. I take cell pictures and video too. I think digital photos and shareable media have been an amazing thing that has brought us together in many ways. This evening, I took a picture of the sunset and then some Christmas lights. But when the sunset is live-streamed or just another like-farm for your social media what is lost is presence.
I love the fact that on that one chilly Washington morning, I stole the sunrise and I’ve kept it for myself all this time. I bring it out from under my bed every once in a while to remember it and tell stories like this, but there is no doubt that it is mine and mine alone. I was present there and you were not. That sunrise was for me alone, not for the network. You can’t see it and you couldn’t click “like” even if you wanted to. If you think that is selfish of me, then go get your own sunrise.—Ryan