The grandfather clock in the hallway had just chimed midnight. When the hearse arrived two hours later, a steady rain was falling in the darkness. I stood on the front porch of our home on Gellatly Street and watched the funeral director wheel the shroud-covered body of my pastor-father to the waiting car. Through a veil of tears, I watched the black mini-van drive away.
That night, I also watched for the dawn. More than ever, I wanted the darkness of night to dissolve into day. While a new day technically begins at midnight, dawn provides the tangible evidence that morning has broken. My broken heart longed for a new day that might help distance me from my grief.
There’s something powerful about the dawning of a new day. I often think of the psalmist who chronicled his own longing for dawn: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning…” (Psalm 30:5 NRSV)
In addition, the dawn’s early light was obviously meaningful to the poet who penned the lyrics to our national anthem. Francis Scott Key celebrated a victorious defense of Fort McHenry as he welcomed a new day. First light also proved holy to the women who found Jesus’ grave empty on the first day of the week. Dawn revealed a reason for hope.
As I contemplated my dad’s death that cold and rainy November night, the approaching dawn was more than a predictable reality. The coming light represented the means by which I could see to navigate a new norm. Life without my dad would be difficult but I realized the separation would only be temporary. The first light of that first Easter guaranteed that.
Ironically, one of my favorite memories of my dad relates to an experience I shared with him on an Easter morning. When I was 10 years old, my dad asked if I would help him distribute bulletins at an Easter sunrise service. He was one of the pastors participating in the community-wide ecumenical gathering. I reluctantly agreed.
Dad woke me up 0-dark-thirty. I dressed warmly and gulped down a glass of orange juice before we headed out the door. As my father drove us to the high school football stadium in the dark, I wiped the sleep from my eyes.
Why did I agree to do this? I hate getting up early, I thought to myself as I shivered in the cold. But as we took our places at the entrance to the stadium, I discovered the reason.
The dark sky began to brighten. I proudly stood beside my dad and followed his lead passing out programs. Triumphant music began to play in the background. My heart began to beat faster as the sun rose higher above the horizon.
It was the first time in my life I recalled having seen a sunrise. My reluctance of crawling out of bed in the dead of night was replaced by an incredible rush of joy.
Until the death of my father, I’d loved sunrises but had never been much of a morning person. But the night he died was a turning point for me. Something in me shifted, and I became much more drawn to the dawn.
There’s something about daybreak that I have come to embrace. Just as Jesus’ disciples associated dawn with death’s defeat, so now do I.
I have also come to see that dawn is a mysterious moment when my perspective is calibrated. The regrets of yesterday succumb to the expectations of a new day.
Each day, life begins anew. With each new sunrise, I have the chance to dance with new possibilities and refocus my gaze on what faith promises. By the dawn’s early light, I sense the presence of a holy God. In the light of a new day, I feel fully alive.
Wenatchee native Greg Asimakoupoulos lives on Mercer Island, where he is a columnist for the Mercer Island Reporter.
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