It’s easy to sort our experiences into well-defined boxes, but life's most intriguing features reside in liminal spaces, such as the dawn.

S1E9 The Dawn

Some of the things that commonly escape our attention exist between two much larger dichotomies, such as water and land. There is a place where the massive expanse that is an ocean meets land, called the coastline or the surf, but unless we’re enjoying a day at the beach, we hardly think about this particular threshold; the place where something ends and another something begins. There are plenty of other examples like this: sky and earth, big and small, hot and cold, dark and light.

One of the things that fascinate me about thresholds is the very nature of in-between-ness itself; a certain something that language has a difficult time explaining because it lacks a specific starkness. This in turn necessitates the creation of new words to describe the space between two things. For instance, the space between night and day is called dawn.

One might say this distinction is unnecessary because the dawn is so obviously a unique time of transition, but if we look closer, we can see there is no one particular moment when the night becomes day. Sure, there is a moment each day when the sun edges above the visible horizon, but still, that event is preceded by an hour or so of indirect light as the sky, moment by moment, becomes brighter. As the shadows slowly become softer and the world around you more illuminated, you might say that at some point, perhaps five minutes before the sun has crested the curvature of the earth, that it is now daytime, but technically it’s not. There is no clear line of demarcation between night and day. This is the realm of dawn.

An interesting point to note about the dawn is that, while there is a technical time when the day begins, which is the sunrise, no such specificity is afforded the beginning of dawn. This part of the day slowly and softly emerges from darkness. There might be darkness all around you before the sunrise, but at some point in the transition, you will look up and see that the sky is brighter, if not by very little degrees, and you might, at this first recognition, realize that it is suddenly dawn, as if it snuck up on you.

I can remember my first encounter with this word. I am unsure what my age was, but old enough to read children’s books. My mom had taken me to the library whose location and building structure I can still remember. I loved libraries when I was a kid; they were filled with so much mystery and wonder, and had a vague atmosphere of holiness about it, as if sacred ground, partially reinforced by the one rule every child knows so well related to libraries – no talking, and if you must, it should be a soft whisper.

Anyhow, this children’s book was my first encounter with the word “dawn.” I can somewhat remember the page; a watercolor illustration with cattails in the foreground, and a little frog, while beyond was a pond. And then a hazy, brownish (but not dirty) sky. These were the earthy tone colors of the late 1970s. I asked my mom what the word dawn was. She explained: the time between night and day. I found this idea fascinating. Looking back with an adult’s understanding, this was probably so because the world in which I lived, which was demarcated by two types of time, day and night, had just expanded, and now I needed to know about dawn.

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I can’t remember exactly, but I want to say the entire book was about dawn. Outside of what the book described, of course, there is a great deal going on during the dawn. Metaphorically, we say things like, “It is the world waking up,” and in a way, this is true, if you are a diurnal creature. If you’re nocturnal, your day is winding down, and here during dawn is when these two paths cross. But dawn is also a beautiful time of energy and softness, where the sun has returned to illuminate the world, to bring nourishing rays so necessary for life, yet it is not too bright; not yet. It allows one to grow into the eventual brightness and responsibilities that typically come with the day.

It’s important to notice these types of seams, like the dawn, that exist between two dichotomies. It’s so very easy to categorize our experience in well-defined boxes of sorts, but it’s in the in-between where some of life’s most intriguing features lie. And if we are too stringent with our definitions, too uniform and unbending, we at best miss that beauty, at worst we deny it. There’s much to applaud about the day and the night, but in between both these two features lies nuanced beauty as well, and would be a shame to not take notice of it, or any other thresholds that exist. The things and concepts that make up our existence are very rarely so starkly black and white, and we are lesser for not noticing the variety.

Curiosity Manifold

A podcast where we attempt to notice easily overlooked aspects of human experience.

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