By Jackie Leavitt
Sunsets have the power to stop you in your tracks. You could be in the middle of a run, breathing hard, sweat dripping down your back, when your feet stop on their own. You could be mid-conversation at a cafe enjoying an afternoon cappuccino, when your voice trails off as the beams of light illuminate your face. You could be an island in the stream of humanity, rooted to the sidewalk, while the rest of the 9-to-5-ers push past, oblivious, on their way home from their day in the office.
They demand silence and your full attention. Anything otherwise would be a shame to you and the sunset. Everything else stops mattering, except for you trying to comprehend how the sunlight can stream so sublimely over the clouds, highlighting the color spectrum that overwhelms your irises like multi-colored streamers above your head at a birthday party. The iridescence is a sacred fire in the heavens, and it feels holy as your face is bathed in the soft pink glow reflected in the sky. There’s a quality of awe, of inspiration, of peace, of magnificence.
And each sunset – and each moment within it – is unique because of the person viewing it, the scenery, the time of year, the weather. Do you have clouds to light the sky in pinks and purples, morphing into different shapes in the wind? Or do you have crystal clear vistas showing the chromatic order of indigo to gold? Did you get to see the mythical green flash as the sun set behind the skeptical ocean horizon?
And sunrises, the more subtle sister to the sunrise, can be even more stunning. Perhaps it’s because we see them less often – only if we wake up at a god-forsaken dark hour or if we stay up way past our usual REM patterns. They are a gift and a surprise, not to be taken for granted. Those few times you are actually up with a vista – it takes your breath away. Sometimes sunrises are soft, with a light blue sky painted with wispy, backlit clouds. Sometimes they are as vibrant and fiery as a sunset, with red streaking the sky like a premonition.
The strangest sunrise I’ve ever seen was an anchored-sailboat view of the ocean horizon, which seemed to be blanketed in the distance with a rust-brown haze. And yet, out emerged a perfect red orb from the waterline, creating the illusion that the fog was somehow behind the sun. It seemed as if the ball of fire climbed from the middle of a smoky sea like a phoenix rising from its ashes.
But there’s nothing like chasing a sunset with a window seat to the world. Sitting above the clouds in an airplane, you take over Zeus’ view, looking down on the snow-capped mountains or green-and-brown fields that stretch out as far as your airplane eye can see. Clouds checker-mark the landscape, or billow up like cotton candy, allowing only small peeks into the mysteries below. And the sunset stretches for miles and miles, and for minutes upon minutes, far longer than any human should have the honor to experience. It’s slow motion, where you have the luxury to gracefully move your glance around to soak in the deep blue, royal purple, rose pink, and orange-lemon colors that dominate the sky. It seems endless and still, although you and the sun and the earth are all moving at inconceivable speeds.
When the sun finally sinks behind your horizon, slowly the heat and the warm colors seep out of the sky, leaving behind a hazy, two-tone blue. It creates a strange feeling of an otherworldly view of a foreign planet. The curve of the ground matches the sweeping color of the heavens above, with only a light blue – almost white – cresting above the earth like a cold, desolate sphere’s last gasp of atmosphere. You are alien to it – alone.