The past days have been fraught with the question: How will we make our deadlines? The thing hovered in my head as I careened through the streets of this city in flying jeepneys, impatient taxicabs, and sometimes, on foot, made wobbly by a week-old cough that scraped my lungs dry. Often, though, a memory would calm the day and suffuse it with courage.
It begins with a tiny halo of light bobbling from the ground a short distance ahead. Then, it vanishes and there is only darkness…I turn on my own headlamp so I can see where I’m walking.
It is a little after 5:00 in the morning. Bee, a friend and I are up at what many would call an ungodly hour to catch the sunrise from a beach strewn with boulders. It is February and the air is chilly in the Philippines’ northernmost islands. I look back now and then to check on our friend. Sometimes, she would call out, “Slow down! My stride is shorter; I am not as tall as you guys, you know!”
And that is why Bee would vanish from my sight. His pace is the fastest. I am not inclined to follow my friend’s bidding, or to ask Bee to do the same. It is nice to walk at my own pace, to not feel the need to hurry and catch up with him, and not be encumbered by the thought that he has to wait for me.
It is exhilarating to be somewhat alone in the dark, feeling my heartbeat quicken, breathing in the cold and sensing it as it streams through my chest. I see the shadows of trees engulfing the inky-blue sky as it yawns into wakefulness. I become aware of my feet as they move, one after the other, on the paved road. I hear the scuffing of my hiking pants. I listen to my thoughts as it realizes, not for the first time, that there is no better way to discover the world than by traveling on foot. Then, as on similar journeys, walking eventually leads to the same conclusion: Life is all about this moment, and there is nothing else but this moment. No past, no future, no worries. Just me and the road.
After walking for about an hour, we finally hear the bellowing of the sea. We see the beach, all boulders and white surf. The horizon is a sleepy mist of orange and would stay that way for a long time. We begin to wonder if the sun would bother to show up at all.
But it does, and its hazy orb seems unwilling to face the day at first. Then, it begins to look alive against the groggy sky. I watch it in fascination, the second sunrise that I have ever seen in my life.
I try to capture the moment with my camera, but after a few shots the battery goes dead. I notice the other people on the beach do the same. They look like avid photographers with their huge tripods and professional cameras. As the sun becomes bigger, I see the photographers bobbing their heads from the camera to the sky, their hands moving quickly to adjust meters and knobs. I am suddenly thankful that my battery has run out. There is no one right way to experience a moment, but sometimes a viewfinder can get in the way.
Thoughts of that morning never fail to bring peace to the everyday business of living in the city. I think of myself walking on that road and soaking up the sun on that beach and deadlines become…just deadlines. The tension fades. Life goes on.