I colored pictures as a very small child, and the sun was either there or it wasn’t, a kind of decoration in the sky, a marker to tell day from night.
A little later, I learned that the sun moves: that it rises in the east and sets in the west. I remember a book where the sun was depicted as Helios, god of the sun, making his way across the sky in a fiery chariot.
I even learned that the path of the sun marks out the location of the zodiac, even though I wasn’t quite sure how, since I never saw them together.
Much we learn, as children and otherwise, we take on faith.
I learned still later that, without the sun, plants won’t grow; that biological cycles always begin there.
Still, as a teen, the sun was primarily a thing I used: to get a tan, to give my friends and me light to play ball. It also frequently disappointed me, not being visible exactly when or for as long as I would have wished, or sometimes, sticking around too long.
My scientific knowledge of the sun’s importance went up as the intensity of my feelings about it went down. If I drew a picture of daytime at eighteen, for instance, the sun might not even be in it. After all, me seeing the sun depended on which way I happened to be facing.
As I leave this hotel towards the nursing home where my mother lays dying, I turn onto a road called Vía Del Sol — the Way of the Sun. The desert lays around me in the early morning light.
As a child, a parent is just there or not, a thing you kind of take for granted.
You learn later that your parent’s life had motion: that they started as children, but, with time, they grew up, and eventually, became your parent. They are your first heroine and hero, larger than any myth could ever be.
You even learn that much of what you do is predicated by your parents via heredity or environment, even though you are not sure exactly how that works, seeing as how the former is only superficially visible, and the latter is so pervasive as to not be noticeable.
Finally, you learn that the cycle of life itself starts with parents and children, and continues when those children become parents, and so on.
Still, as a teen, or a young person, you come to see parents primarily for what they can do for you: can you go to the beach with your friends and get a tan, can you stay out late playing ball. All too often, their answers are not what we’d want, and that may become our focus.
The sun is a star. However, it is our star, the one so close it seems completely different than all the others.
Stars have life cycles: they begin, age, and, eventually, end. Throughout the observable universe, stars in each of these stages can be observed.
It’s hard to imagine life without the sun, though, right? I mean, it’s there, it’s always been there, even in your childhood drawings, a yellow circle on a light blue background.
My mother was a girl, like other girls. She grew up near Niagara Falls, met my father, had my sister, my brother, and me. She was a mother, like your mother, like countless other mothers. But she was our mother, which made her different to us.
Today, watching her labored breathing in a nursing home bed, her hands clutching convulsively at her blanket, eyes occasionally opening to see me, I realize again what I already knew: that her course is nearly run, her part of the cycle of life nearly spent.
That the sun has nearly set.
But you see, the way of the sun is this: that we think it moves, while all the while, we really moved around it. That the life we’ve enjoyed, and the warmth we felt, were in large measure derived from it. That it was no less present, just because we became less aware.
Love carries us along the edge
Of what we have, and who we are:
Love lights the only roads we know,
And whether we be near, or far,
We ride the breeze that love provides,
Within it’s warmth and glow —
Until we reach our journey’s end,
And go where we