“This doesn’t look like a picture. And it doesn’t look like a God. It is a sunset, and it is wildly beautiful, and this whole thing you’ve been doing where almost nothing gets five stars because almost nothing is perfect? That’s b.s. So much is perfect. Starting with this.
I give sunsets five stars.”
I remember the first summer sunset as a kid. The grass was a green that only children could see. The bright horizon, out beyond the street that I wasn’t allowed to cross, was colored in vivid orange to match the marigolds, glowing in electric memory.
“Is this the world?” I asked hopefully of myself, my young legs moving through the cool grass. Whirling, dancing, inspired by silent music, the sky moved with me; the world bucked, twisted and kaleidoscoped around me playfully.
The next sunset impressed me with its broad yellows, grays and blues. The colors seemed to cover even the sun, forming a massive canvas of epic proportions. “This is the world,” I said with confidence as I stood in the doorway, staring out at the wideness, the realness.
The whirling music calmed. A full symphony orchestra replaced the scattered song of my dance, which became a poem, a fair voice, my own epic story. The sky was the soundtrack, the sunset the scene, all pulled onto stage by a young and beautiful colt.
As I stepped out of the college classroom, I saw the third sunset, violent and intense. It spanned the west, north, south (even east). The entire sky was filled with pink, magenta and violet. I fell back in disbelief.
“What a world,” he said, catching me as I collapsed, unable to take in the majesty of it all, while the sky evoked a new poetry, a new song: deeper, richer, bolder, lovelier. As the day ends, a stallion and a mare race each other toward the west.
Sitting around the campfire on the eastern slope of the mountain, I watched the shade rise, filling the valley with dusk. Sandy rocks surrounded me with browns and oranges. The song of evening bounced around the alcove rhythmically. The guitar, vibrating along with our voices, echoed. We sang songs of creation, and as we did creation sang with us, my tin recorder whistling along.
The sky darkened quickly as it sang the varied carols. The music became my muse. A wild horse whinnied down the canyon as lightning flashed in the distance.
The gray sunset was unforgiving and unforgettable. Its beauty first hidden, it sang a song of mourning before white lines beamed through the clouds and snow as if falling from grace, floating, drifting.
“Why is this the world?” I asked, echoing a form of my eternal question. The lonely sun, set beyond the furthest clouds, grew darker, the snow turned to sleet. The sky cried, wept, bowed its head, and marched tragically, bridled and muzzled.
The sixth was holy, sacred. From the temple across the river, I witnessed the sun falling slowly in the west, sinking like an orange disc into the Mississippi. The song became a hymn, then many hymns sung by pioneers carrying their faith west. I fell to my knees.
“I know now of things as they really are,” I thought to myself as I kept vigil, meditated, pondered. The waters were sacred; the fires of the sun were sacred. All creation called out to me as a golden chariot carried the sun to its temporary grave. I believed that tomorrow it would return.
And it did return, a later sunset came to make me laugh, trotting in like a fool on a pony. Purples next to oranges and greens, red and gold speckled the sky. The chilly spring sun sank, sharing its light with anyone wild enough to be out to see it.
I mocked the world then, taunted it, urged it to do its worst, for I knew I was strong. All the mornings and evenings, the days and colors of each sunset had made me tough. All the years of singing had been replaced by laughter: the song of pain overcome, the song of victory.
The last sunset of all is the most glorious. I look out over the world as modest, humble colors are laid out before me like a carpet, like a brick road, but this sunset doesn’t turn the head with shocks of red and yellow, it is pure blue with simple rays of white light. Slow. Peaceful.
“Another world.” I think, and I know that the plainest of dusks is glorious. I watch the sky turn dark and slowly become night. I see the first, second, third stars and wish on them. My eyes turn heavenward as new, celestial music plays, and I ride like Elijah toward the finish, toward the sun.
When I am gone, the sunsets will remain. Some like those I have seen (but never exactly them), some new (and just for you), and some that inspire recollections of the past. When you see those, remember what the world was like with me in it.
And maybe, someday, you will see the sunset that tells the history of them all, that moves through each one, not a picture or a god, but a song—a heavy, beautiful, wild song, dark with dread and bright with sublime wonder. The perfection of each transitory moment abiding briefly before it gallops away, hooves sparking into the night.