A few weeks ago, I attended RadioLab's live audience show "In the Dark." In one segment, they shared an astronaut's account of a low-orbit spacewalk during which time he was on the opposite side of the earth from the sun. He described what he saw (or didn't see, really) as absolute black--with no dust particles or atmosphere or anything for ambient light to attach to, space is entirely black, particularly when a planet is between you and the distant stars. In this shadow, everything dissolved into Nothingness--if his headlamp wasn't shining directly on it, it wasn't there.
The astronaut described feeling like he was floating, as we might expect from someone doing a zero-gravity spacewalk. But then the sun came up. As it rounded the earth, it illuminated everything, and where there was a vast Nothing before, the astronaut could now see oceans and mountains and clouds. He described the sensation as completely disorienting and a little terrifying, like waking up to find yourself atop a 30,000 foot ladder.
Last night I flew into Kauai in the dark. Although it wasn't absolute black, there was no moon and relatively few street lights. I made my way to the condo where I am staying and promptly went to bed. Still on mainland time--and assisted by one of the island's ubiquitous roosters--I woke up before dawn and decided to drive down to the beach to see the sun rise (as a West-coast boy, I have been trained to believe that the sun always sinks into the ocean, not rises from it). It was still dark when I reached the shoreline.
As the sun rose, I was greeted with a view not unlike the picture above. In the abstract, I knew a place like this existed, but I was kind of unprepared for how supremely gorgeous it is. I thought first of our astronaut friend's experience, and then about Tolkien's description of heaven:
"White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise."