Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Church of the Sunset

At the end of my days, will I say simply that I watched a lot of glorious sunsets? Could this be enough?

When I was a young thing fresh out of college running wild in the Berkeley hills I watched sunsets. A group of us met several times a week above the Lawrence Hall of Science to celebrate the sun sinking into the San Francisco Bay. We'd jump-start the evening with a splashy orange glow. A different sunset for every night.

Infinite combinations of clouds, sun, moon, stars, and jet planes echoed the dramas of our small, ever-changing group of friends. We called ourselves the Sunset Club.

One friend from that time, a lovely lost Irishman who came to California by way of Liverpool, had a trove of poems he shared. One fragment stays in my mind, written to his wife: "To find you I came this far, to where the sun sinks into the Pacific like an old man at a spa."

Now witnessing the timeless passage of the sun below the horizon is a life-long ritual, my Church of the Sunset. And yet I ask myself, on quiet evenings, is this pleasure perhaps, too simple?

Sensing the  planet turning away from the sun is essentially passive. You have to stop, be present, maybe enjoy a glass of champagne, and express gratitude for the day. It would seem that there's not a lot of action required to observe nature. And yet, cultivating stillness is a major achievement in a world where we are quite possibly more distracted than ever before.

Do I go outside to see celestial bodies at dusk or dawn? Or do I turn to the internet for pages of news and gossip? It's a measure of how pervasive contemporary gadgets are that even here in Big Sur we face these questions.

These days, I find I watch the sunrise as often as the sunset, mysterious but true. The pink light of dawn  floats at the horizon, above the fog rolling in from the sea. This tender display gently caresses me awake, leading me outside. My feet touch the cool grass, my cats nap on garden chairs, birds chatter and sing out, hummingbirds zoom up to the feeder. The day begins.

And I remember another poem, this one by Rumi -

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you:
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.