Before a freezing dawn on winter’s leading edge, four of us rise in the dark to celebrate. It’s a beloved friend’s birthday, and she’s invited us to gather for a sunrise hike up her favorite butte. I live within different forests, so I must first travel through icy black to meet the others. Yet I rise easily and joyfully. My ease is a clear reflection of caring, for friends and for the day.
First light begins to greet us dimly through fog, not long after we start to scale the trail. The familiarity of the trail guides us until daylight truly begins. We marvel at how rare and special it is to be present to greet the light, on a weekday before our workdays begin. Black is only beginning to grow grey, yet the light has already illuminated our whole day.
Climbing with faith has rewards. By the time we reach the peak, we’re above the valley fog. It becomes a tapestry woven across the hills below; something beautiful, soft, majestic. It’s no longer a restricting shroud. The sunrise above it is silently stunning. My mood peacefully lifts, and I’m grateful I can keep our treasured celebration via camera and memory.
Descending from the peak, it occurs to me that the new year approaches much like the dawn. How we greet its impending arrival will have parallel effect on its love and challenges.
I can’t see the year yet, through the darkness of future time. I don’t know what its love and challenges may reveal, and few of us have had an easy time in recent years. Yet with the year as with the day, I know that rising faithfully to celebrate it will change it for the better.
I’m inspired by how nature writer Barry Lopez recently, masterfully greeted his own passing: by still writing fiercely of bettering the world to come. Even as cancer claimed him, even as wildfire burned his writing archives, even as climate change decimated the forests around his Oregon home, he kept working for a better future he’d never see. Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World, he titled his posthumous literary invitation.
The impending year now invites us to accept his challenge of that embrace. Come January, each dawn will break. Even if we break too—even if the whole world breaks—it’s still up to us to remember that the whole arises from within the broken. Every healer is wounded, every age is pained. For all of earth’s current troubles, it may never have been more whole than it is now.
I remember as we complete our dawn hike that once I stopped waiting to become whole, I learned that whole is what we always are, imperfections and all. None of us need to wait to heal to serve others—whether or not we’re even still alive when our service is complete. As with Barry Lopez, our work and ways will continue to serve even when we’re gone.
So let’s climb another day, to find a beautiful place as we wait for the new year to rise. The year may rise more beautifully than we imagine, if we again rise in the dark to climb with faith.