More Than Just a Sunset

Last night I walked to the marina as the sun was setting. The sky was clear, but the air was cold. I felt eager to get to a spot where I could watch the sunset, but it had already passed into the low clouds by the time I arrived. At first I felt bummed I had missed it, but then I remembered something I wrote about a year and a half ago when I still lived in Ocean Beach, San Diego. I recently stumbled across this word document while going through old computer files, and thought I’d share.

Written May 2, 2011

I live in paradise.

I used to watch the sunset in anticipation. I would affix my eyes to the sinking globe, watching as each drop of brightness poured beneath the horizon and into the next time zone. I would try not to blink in hopes that I might catch the mystical green flash that I’ve only heard people in Southern California speak of. I never have. [Update: I actually have seen the green flash since writing this. Only once though. I thought it was a total myth until seeing it alongside my good friend Jess, but that’s another story.]

Lately I have been more appreciating the moments before sunset, when the orange sun is slowly working its way towards the water but hasn’t yet made it, and afterward when my eyes breathe a sigh of relief and the whole world is a calmer shade of color. I had been treating the sunset as the event, when really, the moments leading up to the sunset are equally, if not more, beautiful and perhaps under-appreciated. Flocks of people can be seen migrating to the water’s edge or to the top of a cliffside, waiting. Waiting for the moment that the sun drops below the horizon. And then those flocks of people can be seen walking away just after the last glimpse of bright light vanishes, sometimes only seconds later. It is as if they came to “watch the sunset” on autopilot and and so anxiously await that special event that they forget about enjoying every moment leading up to it and every moment following.

At least that’s what I felt I was doing.

This evening, I leave my beach cottage about a half hour before sunset, not planning on watching it. I really am going on a power walk up the hill and towards the Cliffs as a last minute effort to put in a workout for the day. I briskly bound up the hill and once in the neighborhoods high above the ocean, my eyes meet the sun low in the western sky. Its colors are warm shades of deep orange and rust red and it is not painful to look at the light. I feel a warm energy penetrating through my physical body and radiating into my soul.

On top of Point Loma, the breeze is unusually warm and carries with it the scent of Spring flowers which undoubtedly are coming from the meticulously gardened yards of the large homes overlooking the Pacific. Through the smell of sweetness also lingers what I presume is barbecued meat grilling in a nearby patio. The streets are empty, except for the occasional car or jogger. Although I often run the trail alongside Sunset Cliffs with everyone else, I do very much enjoy getting up into the neighborhood hills that for some reason are void of many people. Perhaps most are consumed with the beauty of the Cliffs that the thought to venture upward into the neighborhoods doesn’t come to mind. Whatever the reason, I don’t mind. Being completely alone with the sound of palms swaying in the late afternoon sun is what makes for these solo walks.

It’s during these walks with myself and the world that I enter in to a state of bliss. I can feel my insides shining as my lungs naturally yearn to breathe the sweet air. My gait picks up and my body feels lighter. I am so happy and nothing else could be more special than exactly what I am experiencing at this very second. I find that when a certain smell hits my nose, I am instantly reminded of childhood, but I can’t be sure of what. I breathe in long and slow through my nose trying to capture the scent enough to conjure up a memory, but as soon as I feel as though I am close to realizing what the smell reminds me of, I am forced to exhale quickly before taking another long shot of air through the nose. I can’t ever seem to remember what the memory is, even though it’s always different, and I’ve realized that perhaps it’s just the smell of the outdoors. The smell of neighborhoods at sundown. And perhaps it reminds me of those days long ago when I didn’t have any conception of time or place, only the experience of mindless games and fanciful thinking; when not only could I not see far enough to know tomorrow’s plans, but  I didn’t even care to. When tomorrow’s plans didn’t even cross my mind. The simplicity of walking, especially at such a special time of day, makes it easy to take on that innocent frame of mind that once was my only frame of mind.

The sun has passed now. The star won’t return until morning, yet the show is not over yet, at least not for me. I feel I could keep moving my feet forward and never stop. I don’t want to stop. The world is all around me out here and I am addicted. I only want more. It is the most natural high besides sex.

I see the darkness of the east sneaking its way towards me, as though it is chasing the sun that is now illuminating somebody else’s world. I have never been able to get over the fascinating concept that my setting sun is someone’s rising sun. While the sun was still low in my sky, someone on the other side of the earth was seeing the first traces of dawn. The sun then peeked half into their world while still half in mine and despite the thousands of miles of ocean and earth between us, we were connected, even if only by the fact that our eyes were staring at the exact same object in space at the exact same time while feeling the exact same sense of miraculous existence that one cannot help to feel in the presence of such large scale beauty. And now, as night blankets the sky above me and small stars begin to appear, my feet lead me through the streets of this beach town I call home. My insides smile, knowing I have witnessed more than just the setting sun.

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