Dawn and sunrise are two different things. Dawn is when we see the first rays of the sun as it rises towards the horizon.
Sunrise is when the top of the sun reaches the horizon, that moment when we can see the sun. The new day is delivered.
But Dawn is the promise of that which is yet to come—a contract of a new day. Dawn was my father’s favourite time of the day. In April 2008, he died just before dawn. He held out all through the long dark night and then gently left us as light broke the darkness. I comfort myself with the belief that he timed it on purpose so we’d have the dawn to give us strength in those first hours when full comprehension of our loss shimmered out of reach.
Dawn gave us hope – it still does.
I think of this now, as my friends mourn their own loved ones lost in this pandemic.
No amount of hope will blunt their pain.
Hope will not bring someone back to life.
Hope will not cure the incurable.
Hope will not stop me missing my dad.
We have to own that pain, live that heartache, possess that hurt without letting it possess us.
And to accomplish that we have to knuckle down in the darkest hour and look towards the dawn.
Indeed this week there has been much talk of dawn and hope and getting past the darkest hour. There were many moments in US Presidential Inauguration on Wednesday 21st January 2021 that took my breath away, but my favourite was when President Biden quoted the bible saying, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
Weeping is valuable too, especially in our darkest hour.
The US military has a nickname for this time – Oh Dark Hundred. It is the time furthest from the touch of the last beams of sunset, the bleakest, darkest moment of the cycle of night and day. But take heart, because in the very next moment after Oh Dark Hundred is first light – dawn – delivering hope we can cling to, keeping us afloat until sunrise.
But dawn is not sunrise – there is still work to do. I say this as friends and family battle with the virus, their health eroded and recovery taking goodness knows how long. The numbers of those still ill and in a precarious state here and around the world are terrifying. It is easy to feel like we are stuck at Oh Dark Hundred. It is okay not to feel optimistic. Despair is not a failure even if it feels like it is with so many calling upon us to be hopeful. Positivity is not always the answer. Maybe while we are at the darkest time we have yet seen in this pandemic, it is a moment to pause and give a nod to our collective sorrow. Perhaps this is the purpose of Oh Dark Hundred. Perhaps it is a time to accept, to sit alone in the darkness and acknowledge what we are feeling, to not run from it, but stand our ground and face it for even the briefest of moments – for some pain cannot be borne for any longer. Perhaps Oh Dark Hundred is the time to stare despair down and say, ‘I see you, I know you, and I will move past you.’
But the dawn comes…
The dawn is a snowdrop in January
The dawn is my father’s laugher in my nephew’s voice
The dawn is your mother’s smile flitting across your daughter’s face
The dawn is a 22-year-old poet with whose wise words make your heart swell with joy
The dawn is an old man quoting Irish poets
The dawn is two successful women sharing a wordless moment of solidarity
The dawn is a healthcare worker getting some rest
The dawn is a homeschooling break with tea and a biscuit
The dawn is a syringe with a dose of vaccine, with your name on it
The dawn is a job application, a grant application
The dawn is planning a family meal, a gathering, a reunion
The dawn is a travel brochure, a deposit, a date in your diary
The dawn always arrives, and “Joy cometh with the morning.”
In the meantime, I wish you healing and hope you find joy in the tiny things in life.