I find myself these days looking longingly at sunsets. Sunsets can, of course, be beautiful, and well worth watching. But there seems to be something specific, something moving these days when I see them.
Perhaps it’s that I’m seeing them more than is customary. These days at my latitude the sun is setting as I’m leaving the hospital. On long days I arrive in the dark and I leave in the sunset – if things go well. If they don’t, it is as dark when I leave as when I arrive. I am conscious these days of not seeing sunlight, except sometimes through the windows by patients’ beds. If I can see the sunset, it is a light I see little of otherwise.
Perhaps it’s my own tendency toward seasonal affective disorder. I have never been diagnosed, but I remember enough years when January was a particularly difficult month for me.
Perhaps it’s the end of the day calling to mind the end of the year. This has been a difficult year – a year when most of my vacation time went to family funerals. Funerals, as family gatherings, are ambivalent events for me. I am happy to see family that I don’t commonly see, even as I am sad at the occasion. Let the sun set on this year: I will be glad enough, I think, to have it over and hope for better next year, next sunrise.
Perhaps it’s a sense of sunset on my home, or at least on the faith that has been home to me now for 44 years. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion face division and disruption in what can best be understood as a family fight. We will discuss for years – it will surely become the topic of a host of doctoral dissertations – just what acts, just what issues, just whose decisions precipitated these divisions. The pain and the sadness and the bitterness are the same regardless. Different wings of the family are choosing who is in and who out, who can come to the table and who can’t, and as with any family dispute, the destruction of intimacy is the source of the sharpest pain.
Perhaps it’s simply the awareness of the turn of the solar year. I understand the anthropological reasons that so many cultures have celebrations of the turn of the world from darkness to light in this season. Perhaps cultures in the Southern hemisphere do the same in June; I don’t know. I do know that for us in the Northern hemisphere, and the higher the latitude the greater the import, this season is one of watching days shorten and nights lengthen – dark, cold nights, unalloyed by romance or mystery. To know the hope of the sun return, of that change when nights begin to shorten and days begin to lengthen has long cheered us. Surely it is no coincidence that the coming of the Son falls right on schedule with the coming of the sun.
For all these thoughts, of course, the sunset is as necessary as it is melancholy. There is no sunrise without sunset, as there is no resurrection without death. And as beautiful as it is in its own right, the sunset is beautiful as the mirror of the sunrise it follows, as evocation of the sunrise it precedes. God in mercy keeps the world turning, and so provide for us sunsets for sadness at the loss of day, for awe at the power of the night, for hope at the promise of the expected sunrise.
I find myself these days looking longingly at sunsets.