Why Photograph the Sunset: December 2010

Photo by Wasima Wali

Trying to burn off the extra meals I ate on this cruise, I walk on the plank of the ship. One always ends up eating more than necessary in a all you can eat scenario. It’s that mindset – I don’t know when I will get food next, might as well eat up!

As the light blue sky turns darker, the reflection on the crystal clear water does the same. I see groups of people, couples holding hands, walking towards of the opposite direction of my stride. They are heading towards the top deck. I turn around and see the orange glowing sun, getting ready to say goodbye to our side of the planet soon.

With a typical herd mentality, I abandon my walking ambition and head towards the top deck. The breeze is blowing strongly – and you feel a chill in the air.

There are about a hundred people gathered on the top deck, surrounded by glass railings. People of different age, gender and race, await those precious few moments of a beautiful sunset. Many are holding a camera towards the glowing red sky with a burning ball in the center. Many are posing to take pictures with the glowing sun next to them.

I wonder why sunsets are so beautiful in our minds. Isn’t every sun set the same as the last one?

Or, is it because, it reminds us of our finite time on the planet, and who knows if we will see the next sunset? Or maybe because, we are celebrating the end of another day in our lives and wondering how the next day would be.  

There is a sad and happy moment all together. In some ways it’s a natural intersection of our continuous journey. New preparations needed – protections needed – as darkness engulfs us.

I remember, as a child, somehow at dusk, we were rushed indoors. My mother was never really fond of sunsets. I think the dark unknown scared her and she wanted to protect us from all the jinn and bhoot (spirits) that were out to inhabit  children, who are playing outside at that specific moment. I realized this more seriously, once on a long trip through the American Southwest; driving through the desert at sunset, I noticed my mother crying at the back of the car. She asked me vehemently, why I insist on driving in the dark.

When I was in college, there was an ad on TV that showed a young dad and a child under a tree, watching a sunset, as he explains this phenomenon to his young child he says, “Going…..going….gone”. The little child, in the dark, next says naturally, “Wow, Dad…. Do it again!”

It is one of the most memorable and touching ads I have seen. It’s one of those memorable moments in life when utter amazement is coupled with the sense of discovery.

Over time, I have confronted my fears of the sunset and have learned to enjoy them. Living in the East Coast of the Florida, I some times go to the beach to welcome the sun; however, I don’t get to see a sunset very often. In the evenings, I sit on my patio or my boat, longingly looking at the pink sky and imagining the sun setting around Marco Island or somewhere west of us.

This relationship with the Sun, is something very special for humans. I think it reminds us of the natural stages of our own lives; the transitions, the vitality of life, yet with the inevitability of change that awaits us. The fact that, every day is a gift; it’s finite and perishable – that’s worth making special.

As another year draws to an end, I sit back and try to take stock of all the things that have happened around me this year. Many happy things, many smiling faces have surrounded me. I have also been besieged by the darkness of tumult, of uncertainty – not knowing what happens next. I realize, in some ways, like sun sets, that’s what life is all about.  

All we can do, during our short journey, is to try to make others happy. Our happiness is really a by-product of the happiness of those around us. You have to try to be like the sun, setting far, far away, with no realization of how it is impacting others.

Every day, the Sun makes our lives possible, with energy and light that is our basic foundation. That’s why sunsets are so special.

There is a Hindi song, that rings in my ear, from many years ago, sung by Mukesh, in one of my favorite movies, Anand:

“Kahi dur jab din dhal jaye, (as the sun sets)

Saanjh Ki Dulhan, Badan Churaye, Choopke Sey Aye (like a beautiful, shy, red bride, gently, hides her face)

Mere Khayalo, Key Angan Mey, Koi Sapno Key, Deep Jalaye, Deep Jalaye! (someone lights a dream of the future in my thoughts)”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmYT79bYIQw

After everything, sunsets make us realize that there is a hope for another day – another dream – to start the next day fresh and make all dreams possible.

This is why, every sun set is so special and unique in its own way. One realizes that what you were today, you will be different tomorrow. You will be re-born, bringing together your experiences of the past.

That’s why, every sunset deserves to be photographed.

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3 thoughts on “Why Photograph the Sunset: December 2010

  1. Somebody told me this would be your last essay of the year, so I came over to check it out. I read it twice.

    “Isn’t every sun set the same as the last one?”

    To my eyes, my wife’s face is beautiful. Whenever I see it, I find that I do take a moment just to look at it. Of course, it was the same face it was yesterday, and one expects it will be the same tomorrow. In that respect, it is much like the sun. And like the sun, there is still that pleasant inner glow I feel whenever I see it, familiarity notwithstanding.

    Now I don’t mind admitting that my wife’s face looks prettier to me now than it did when we first got married. This is not hard to explain. The face I see now when I look at her is a face that has cared from me in sickness, stood by me through the hard times, and told me repeatedly that I am loved. That face has been my partner and helpmate for years, and so naturally I would see beauty in it. When we first married, we did not have such experiences behind us, and so I did not see so familiar a face.

    The sun is much the same. Live long enough, and there will come days when you are thankful just to make it to morning. Live long enough, and you will learn in school how mind-bogglingly massive the sun is (and the Earth, for that matter), and how huge and perfect the music of the spheres is. Live long enough, and you will come to understand why we appreciate summer more than winter, and why we love the warmth of the sun. All this knowledge and more dances across our subconscious when we see a sunset. It is the same sun we saw yesterday, but we do not look at it with the same eyes.

    Now, speaking of subconscious, the two happy sunsets in your essay take place off the deck of a cruise ship, and behind your oceanfront house; both at the ocean. The one negative sunset, the one that made your mother scream at you, takes place in the American southwest; dry land. There is something about the bright, life giving sun that requires the primal chaos of the ocean to balance it, isn’t there? The fixed, frozen orderliness of dry land is not suited to the nighttime. Birth, and rebirth, have to come from chaos; they can’t spring from order. Morning over dry land is just a continuation of the previous day. Morning over the ocean allows for something really new, because water doesn’t stay in place overnight. We need a little chaos if we are to stay alive.

    1. What beautiful thoughts! Thanks for being part of the conversation. Everything you have said are amazing.
      ” Live long enough, and there will come days when you are thankful just to make it to morning. Live long enough, and you will learn in school how mind-bogglingly massive the sun is (and the Earth, for that matter), and how huge and perfect the music of the spheres is. Live long enough, and you will come to understand why we appreciate summer more than winter, and why we love the warmth of the sun. All this knowledge and more dances across our subconscious when we see a sunset. It is the same sun we saw yesterday, but we do not look at it with the same eyes.”
      Let’s enjoy every sunset beautiful. Please keep pushing our thinking the way you do.

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