I woke up on the early side this morning and sat at the kitchen table with my Bible and my coffee cup. The sun wasn’t up yet, but the light was: everything to the east a pale gray.
Naturally, I thought of words.
“Effusion,” I thought to myself. “This is an ‘effusion’ of light.” The stand of trees just east of my house was cast in the beginnings of day. The yet invisible sun had brought the light up, so to speak, in the way the lights come up in a theater at intermission or with a dimmer switch in one’s dining room. It wasn’t bright outside; it wasn’t sunny. It was a filling of light.
But “effuse” and “effusion” were not the words I was looking for. I know, because I checked in with Merriam-Webster, that powerhouse of all things Words. And I discovered, in the fog of my morning brain or my (recently) traveling-too-much brain, or in my all-of-the-marketing-and-none-of-the-writing brain, that I was wrong.
To “effuse” does indeed mean “to flow out,” and the growing light to the east was a kind of flowing, I suppose. The light filled the spaces between the black tree trunks as in so much pouring, which is a definition of “effuse” (“to pour out, as a liquid”).
But it wasn’t quite right.
Why? Because “effuse” and “effusion” are more than this. They are words marked by more— as in Too Much. See Merriam-Webster’s second definition: “to make a great or excessive display of enthusiasm.”
It’s the “excessive” bit here that misfits. And if that seems untrue, we must check the synonyms for “effuse,” which are as follows: gush, fuss, rave, rhapsodize. And the best of them: drool, slobber.
I know, I know. These words are synonyms for the second definition, that “excessive display of enthusiasm.” But we can get the gist of a word more fully when we consider those second (and third) definitions. And certainly we all know what it’s like when one gushes one’s enthusiasm, when one raves. Is that a right sense of “effusion” for the beginnings of a sunrise? For the beginning of my sunrise, today? “Effuse,” “effusive,” “effusion”: these are words leaning beyond abundance, toward excess. Toward– if you will– muchness.
What we had outside my window at 7 AM wasn’t excessive in the slightest. It was quieter than that.
By 7:30, a glow had begun, the gray giving way to something warmer. The sun was certainly now visible somewhere along the horizon, but not yet through my stand of trees. What I had instead was a lifting fog tinged in yellow, and blackened trunks easing toward gray. Light slipping into spaces that, only moments ago, were dark.
“Diffusion,” I thought to myself. That was the word. “Diffuse,” “diffusion.” And naturally I returned to Merriam-Webster, because I like to go there whenever the smallest need suggests itself.
The word seemed, at first, to work: “spread out over a large space, not concentrated.”
What we had outside my window was decidedly spread out. It was everywhere, in fact. The light that moments before was only a gray cast in the sky was now touching everything. The leaves, still patiently hanging on even in the latter half of November, were beginning to show their colors: yellow, pale green, copper and rust.
I considered again my word: “diffuse,” and decided to look at the secondary definitions.
“Diffuse: being at once verbose and ill-organized; not concentrated or localized.”
No, this wasn’t the right word at all. Because while the growing light was decidedly circuitous (a synonym of “diffuse” and perhaps here expressing the light’s capacity for movement around and between the trunks and slender articulations of branch, stem, and leaf), it was certainly not rambling, not long-winded, if you will. Not wandering into logorrhea (“excessive and often incoherent wordiness”), which is specifically a word about speech and words but which implies a lack of focus or organization. Inattention to detail.
What we had outside my window was specific. It was coming on with what could be called deliberation. And it was very attentive to detail.
The sun itself was now coming through in hazy lines through the trees, landing here and there on trunks and leaves. Sometimes it held a cluster of leaves hanging in the sunlight, their colors glowing while around them the woods were in shadow. And sometimes it was a single leaf fully imbued with light as if set on fire. For awhile, a solitary maple leaf close to me was incandescent. It was bright yellow in the sun, and its stem–attached almost invisibly to its shadowed branch–shone red.
This was when I gave up consulting the dictionary. I stood at the window and watched the light call things to life, as with its many hands it moved through the trees, a mother tenderly waking her children into the day.
The right word, of course, is “suffuse,” something you and Merriam-Webster could have told me, no doubt, at the very beginning of this post. To suffuse is to “spread over or fill,” and so it was with the light through the little woods in my backyard. This morning I watched it flush and fill, endue and imbue this small patch of world.
I watched it happen: steep and infuse. “As with a liquid,” says Merriam-Webster. Or “as with joy,” I say.
As with life.