In the twilight of the morning of May 17th, 2016, we were the first in the continental United States to witness the sun rise. I made a point to Google May 17th 2016 before writing and found that nothing remarkable had otherwise occurred. I think of our time gathered atop Cadillac Mountain and of the apparent significance of May 17th and I find myself at a loss for understanding; the day before I had turned twenty-two, less than a week before I had graduated from an art program in which I had spent the last four years developing a sense of clarity and purpose. When you stand at the peak of something so great as a mountain or on the shore of something so vast as the sea you can easily find yourself feeling as though you are standing within the court of God. Before these things one’s life can seem insignificant, one can find themselves lost.
Four years in an art program had left me jaded and stagnant and so this trip was meant to spur my spirit into welcoming the next phase of life. A great journey north, ten days on the road with my mother and my lover, two people with whom I feel most comfortable and most refreshed; but even here breathing in the cool mountain air and witnessing the spectacle of May 17th I didn’t feel refreshed. Truthfully I felt exhausted and a little let down.
We are told in our histories that life changes abruptly through conflicts and revolutions. Moments come which suddenly change the course of world events spurring historic figures and civilizations down paths for which they might be forever memorialized in our stories. Life rarely happens this way; its course is often more gradual and subtle. We follow paths carved for us by our forebears, previous generations, governments, parents through the course of childhood. There is always a degree of predestination in our lives, from graduations to parenthood, even those things which seem abrupt in life, set in motion long before they came to fruition. Certain things are inevitable.
We watched as the morning light swept through the coast of Mt. Desert Island. I imagined a wildfire sweeping through the canopy below, the trees buckling and falling to the blaze, their children reveling in the ash, a great new forest rising in its place. When I fell out of this fantasy I could only see the same forest which had stood before. Spectacular surely, sublimely lit by the morning sun, but the same as it had been when we arrived and not tremendously different from what it had been even a century before. May 17th 2016 was not a day for forest fires or revolutions. It was a day for contemplation demarcated by an arbitrary moment of apparent significance.
As the sun split the sky the glorious pink and red light of morning had fallen to its usual colors, bold yellows and blues. We, of course, were not the only ones atop Cadillac Mountain that morning and by now everyone else was turning away. I looked around at faces wrapped in blankets and in scarves and I found myself wondering. For the most part this morning light seemed to be a novelty, special if only to say that we were the first to witness it, but as folks turned away I could see them lingering on a sky which had become unremarkable. I could see them desperately grasping to a moment which now seemed more sacred than novel. I wondered what they had sought in ascending Cadillac Mountain that morning and I wondered if they had found it.
Years before our trek to Maine I had renounced my belief in God, a moment of rebellion but a moment which, like graduation, was inevitable. Because of this it had become strange to feel his presence here, shaping the world subtly from my perspective but drastically from his own. I cannot say if the others who stood here were Christians or Jews or Muslims or Pagans or Buddhists or Atheists but atop Cadillac Mountain we had all become theists. Emerson might have recognized this as a moment of transcendence but I could only call it ‘important’ and I couldn’t really tell you why.
As the sun set later that evening I was sad to see the day pass and sad to see such a tremendous phase in my life pass; but such passage was inevitable. More than anything though I was sad to see everyone leave, to see cars descend the mountain after the end of the morning, to see everyone continue on with their days unconcerned with the passage of time, even grateful for it. God impresses me not in the obvious ways. It is not his glory or his power which gives me awe, but his patience and his willingness to let go. Every day the sun rises over Cadillac Mountain and he paints a marvelous picture. Every day sun worshippers come to bask in his glory and witness his work. Every day those sun worshippers die, or forget, or cease to care. Every day God is lost to someone, myself included; and yet everyday he allows the sun to set, content to be forgotten, to have his sky-cast masterpiece forgotten.
I do not believe in God but on May 17th 2016 I took a cue from his patience. As the sun descended upon the western United States for the rest of the nation to witness I thought that I might let it set too. To my mother and my lover and all of those sun worshippers gathered on Cadillac Mountain, May 17th 2016 was moderately significant. As it passed I resolved to let it stay that way, to let life pass gradually and to forgive it for lacking its revolutions and its wildfires. At least for that day I would sleep content to see it go.