Several years ago I traveled back to India, to the foothills of the Himalayas where I grew up. My class was having a reunion in conjunction with our school’s 150th anniversary celebration.
On the last morning our seventh grade homeroom teacher invited us to a sunrise breakfast. A handful of us arrived on time and walked with our teacher along a narrow path to a bench. We listened as he described the path the light would take and told us where and when the sun would appear. The yellow light on the snow of these high mountains was stunning.
What sticks in my memory more than the details of this gorgeous sunrise though is that two other white-haired men joined us. At least one of them wore his pajamas and robe and they both carried cups of tea. As I recall, they didn’t stay long. Once the sun was up, they turned and walked back to their homes.
I was very moved to learn that these three white-haired men regularly watched the sunrise together. I knew each of them from the classroom, school functions, church services, hikes, potlucks, and meals at my family’s home and/or theirs. Now, years later, I was catching a glimpse of them in a different context and was honored to witness this.
I got the sense that this sunrise was both extraordinary and ordinary for them. Extraordinary because of the incredible beauty, something they each valued enough to leave their warm beds to witness. Ordinary because this was an everyday occurrence and this is how they started the day.
From my daily walks along a rural road in northern California, I understand the power of starting the day with the beauty of the natural world. After my morning cup of tea, the dogs and I walk up a hill to a vineyard, down the other side and back. I take these walks as much for me as for the dogs.
We walk at roughly the same time every morning and I love noticing the changes in the light, in the weather, in what’s blooming and growing, and in what’s dying. I often ask myself, “What’s beautiful today?” This morning it was the cool crisp air, the stillness beneath the birdsong, and the waxing moon in the clear light blue sky. Yesterday it was an unexpected warm breeze and a hummingbird sipping nectar from the purple Bear’s Breech flowers.
I cannot speak for the three men watching the sun rise over the Himalayas. I can say that paying attention to the beauty I experience as I walk this road every morning helps me be more present to the ordinary and extraordinary beauty of being alive.
In memory of Rev. Robert C. Alter (1926-2011)
My invitation to you: How do you experience ordinary and extraordinary beauty? I’d love to hear.