In Ukraine there is a tradition called “graduation ball” that happens upon the completion of high school. My mother used to tell me about how when she was in school they would receive their diplomas and then go dancing throughout the night. After the celebrations were over and it was late enough, or early depending on the perspective, the students would go out together to greet the sunrise. I always thought this was the best part of the graduation.
Most students are familiar with the concept of all-nighters. Sometimes it is unintentional such as when you stay out with friends so late that it makes no sense to bother going to sleep when the sun is already colouring the sky. In other cases it is a matter of cramming in the last desperate details of assigned readings before a midterm exam. Most of us have done it. Willingly getting up before dawn however is something else entirely. With the exception of some truly devout varsity athletes going for a morning jog there are few people that would want to be out of a bed before the sun has even risen.
When I left for Montreal to attend university my mother’s high school tradition loitered in my mind refusing to leave. It was a moment of inspired insanity that prompted me to suggest to a friend the idea of hiking up Mont Royale before dawn so that we could watch the sunrise. We even made it into a tradition of sorts, going up once a year to watch the sun crest over the St.Lawrence River.
I loved the way the night still lingered throughout the city even as dawn crept up on the horizon. There were a couple times that I stumbled across raccoons ripping apart garbage bags on the empty sidewalks, oblivious to the city waking up around them. In the woods on Mont Royale spider webs crisscrossed between trees, still unbroken by the joggers that would flood the trails in the late morning. Reaching the main lookout over Montreal, my friend and I would find ourselves in the company of the odd yoga enthusiast doing their morning routine high above the rooftops of the city.
My mother and her classmates had watched the sunrise to mark the boundary between childhood and adulthood but for me this tradition held a different significance. Trekking up to this lookout point to greet the sunrise was a way to step back from the overwhelming currents of day-to-day concerns. I think that we sometimes get dragged down by routine and lose our sense of forward momentum. Who doesn’t on occasion feel insecure or trapped in a rut? People often want to be elsewhere — to travel to exotic places and do exciting things — after all, new experiences help us grow as individuals. But I have come to realize that simple things can be just as meaningful if we care enough to stop and appreciate them.
My friend and I would stand on top of Mont Royale and watch the sun bloom on the horizon like kindling catching fire. The blue hues of the sleeping city scattering the light over the windows of skyscrapers and bringing warmth back into the landscape. We came to the same spot each time but the experience was always slightly different. Taking the time to savor this sight, before plunging back into everyday life, was revitalizing in that it reminded me that it is possible to rediscover what is already familiar.