chasing sunsets

photo 2Our car bumped along the back country roads a few evenings ago, the voices low and small in the backseat humming along with the rhythm of the tires. Mark and I were quiet with the exhaustion of a long weekend. The sunset was setting gloriously in front of us, setting the trees on the horizon aflame. It was burning out in such a surprising way – the day had been dreary with spots of rain. But just for a bit, the clouds were gone, the sky instead painted with swaths of burning pastel. We pointed out the windows, sharing this moment with each other, staring it into memory. I tried to take a picture or two, but nothing on the screen looked like what I was seeing.  It was directly ahead of us, and it was poetry – driving off into the sunset. We chased it down to home. But we never got there, to that sunset. Because you can’t actually get to a sunset, can you?

Here’s the hard truth: I’m spinning, and I’m spun. Winter is hard for me: there is less actual light. We are not outside as much, though we try (if last year was called a polar vortex I don’t know what to call this year’s record breaking cold temperatures). Our house is small; we are in close quarters. It’s hard to admit, but I’m having a hard time seeing the light, and finding the glory. And I feel convicted, and embarrassed because isn’t that supposed to be my thing? To just slow down enough, to see life for the beauty that it offers, to say thank you, always. Right now, though, I’m doing a terrible job.

Towards the end of a really rough day, Mark shooed me off to take a long hot shower all by myself while he took over trying to manage the post-dinner, pre-bedtime crazy. As I stood motionless with the water pouring over my head I tried to fix myself, pull myself out of my ridiculous pity party. I thought of all the families that I know, personally and intimately, whose lives are harder and more devastating than mine. I thought of all the tragedy in the world, and reminded myself over and over again that a day in my life is so far removed from that. But it didn’t work. All it did was make me feel guilty.

Later that night, after the kids were (finally, finally) all asleep in their beds, Mark and I did our rounds, pulling blankets up, sweeping hair from faces, and kissing them with blessings. After I had done all that, I stood at Griffin’s bedside with slow silent tears on my cheeks. The beauty pounded in my chest, my heart beat so fiercely that I thought Mark could probably see it, glowing in the dark room, right there. I was so twisted up about it – about why it takes this dark and quiet moment to be thankful. About the work it all takes, plodding one foot in front of the next through the tantrums and the raised voices and the chores and the sheer constancy of it all. About how elusive and slippery beauty and truth are.

Just like that sunset.

That’s the thing about a sunset, about any beautiful landscape on the horizon, really. It’s there for us to see, not to actually get to. That sunset is always just ahead, leading the way. The peaks and crags of a mountain are beautiful from the ground looking up. When you’re climbing that mountain though, what’s right in front of you is decidedly less glamorous. It’s steep, and hard, strewn with brush and bramble, and often you can’t see much but a few steps ahead.

This is my metaphor right now.

It’s easy while I’m writing to take a step back and see that the mess is beautiful and daily and necessary (and I guess that’s one reason why I keep writing). But it is hard, really hard, to do it when I’m living in the middle of it, and things are unfolding all around me.

Most days I have that chance to see that sunset, look out into the horizon and see what beauty is there. But if I’m trying to chase it down, trying to hold on to it and claim it for my own, then I’ll only be disappointed when I never get there. If I have my eyes on the sunset, I’ll always know which way is west.

Sometimes it looks like the peaceful reprieve of sleeping bodies, rising and falling with breath in the dark.

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