I remember sitting in my truck looking west. I was on the edge of the bench seat, leaning back with my ankles crossed and heals propped up on the pane of the open door. It was dusk and the sky was a beautiful yellow-orange with strokes of lemon and white edging on lavender clouds. The sun hung heavy just above the jagged silhouette of the mountains, burning and blurring its edge. The air was hot. Sweat slowly beaded and rolled on my neck and face. Without movement, the air was a hot blanket, soft and ever cloaking. Luckily, gently a breeze would brush by, cooling the sweat at just the right moment, that split-second before I was to adjust my position in hopes of distracting myself from the oppressive warmth. But I didn’t mind the heat. Not really. This was what I was used to—another summer sunset. However, not one was ever ordinary. Each sunset was a burst of brilliant jewels piled behind the horizon. Each was a cathedral at which I respectfully lay in awe. I was inspired and uplifted all at once, and it as well fulfilled something more in me: a feeling of participation in something so big, intensely beautiful, absolutely wondrous and this side of divine. It stirred in me emotions that, at times felt so rapturous as to lead me from my inner elation to feelings of inconsequence, even unworthiness. But it never lingered as negative—for it planted something deep in my center—something more lasting than joy. It was contentment. For me, such was the majesty of sunsets. In 1990. It was what brought me back to that spot all summer.
I let moments pass after the sun had set and the sky’s glow waned into dark purple and finally darkness. Now just the lights of the distant parts of the city and the cars spotted the horizon. All of a sudden I could feel my aloneness. It was like a parade had passed and I noticed all at once that everyone else had gone. But I don’t mind the feeling of aloneness. It’s not the same as loneliness. For me it feels like freedom.
I parked at the same place each time I watched the sunset. Not just in the same area, but in the exact same spot. See, it was a parking lot. I didn’t want to go to a typical place where one might want to watch the sun set—a hill or a park—for example. It was my reasoning that those spots would be occupied and I wanted to be alone. Not the kind of alone where there’s no person around for miles, but the kind of alone where I would be just far enough that no one would pay me any attention. I would be inconsequential. I felt comfortable in this place. It was spacious. It was the parking lot of a go-kart racetrack that had been closed for more than a decade. I found the parking spot that was, in my estimation, equidistant from all of its sides. I’d found the comfortable center. Here I would drop the truck’s tailgate and read for an hour or so before taking in the sunset. Here are just three of the books I still have, that I read that summer.
After the radiance of the sunset had passed and twilight dissolved into the night, I would become very aware of my surroundings. The parking lot was quite dark, as the lamps in the lot had not been illuminated in years. Often I would remain there for 30 minutes to an hour, contemplating what I saw and what I’d just read, and feeling relief as the high temperature began to subside. I’d strain to see what was around me, trying my best to be alert in the darkness. And I felt like my hearing was heightened, detecting distant sounds softly but clearly. I was very present, in my body and in my thoughts.
That summer was a time when I was continuously feeding my mind, painting, drawing and otherwise trying to create “art” with my friends in our art studios, critiquing each others’ work, challenging ideas, laughing, drinking, getting high and creating experiences that make me who I am. I miss those days but mostly I miss how I felt about myself back then. I had the greater part of my life in front of me. I was carefree but also challenged and I filled my days with purpose.
I want to get that feeling back. Maybe I should start with sunsets.