Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sunsets in the City - 01.08.03

Yesterday's post reminded me of one I wrote years ago, when I had first moved here. That first year was hard, and though my friends here went out of their way to make me feel no-so-alone, we all had seperate lives and I needed to find my way. And as you all know, that's often lonely and hard and a little desperate at times. I wrote this post at a moment where it seemed I might finally see the light, get my feet under me - make this home.

And I did, eventually, in ways deeper and richer than I ever could have imagined back then. I had *hopes* for such things - but sitting here years later I can still feel that lost girl hoping against hope that somehow it would all work out. I wish I could go back in time and tell her there are so very many beautiful sunsets and sunrises and stars in her future.

And, well, welcome her home.

Sunsets in the City - 01.08.03

They said there were no sunsets in New York City. And I believed them. I nodded my head in sympathy when a friend sighed watching a sunset at the holidays, or shrugged helplessly when another would lean in and whisper, “You can’t tell me you won’t miss that”. It never occurred to me it would be otherwise, for with those giant walls of steel and stone surrounding me, of course there would be no sunset, no dramatic skies, no smoky end to my days. And I consciously tried to breathe in every sunset before I left, memorizing the colors, trying to remember how it felt when the sky suddenly blazed up, then retreated into the dusky blue of the stars. And I was right, in a way. There’s no watching the sun melt into the horizon. No slowly counting to yourself to see if you can guess how long it will take the ball of fire to disappear behind the far trees. But there ARE sunsets. And tonight a small woman bundled in an old ill-fitting coat taught me just that.

It was bitterly cold, as it has tended to be these last few days, and I found refuge in one of my favorite neighborhood haunts, the bookstore. I spent an hour walking slowly through all the sections, running my finger along the spines and every once in awhile opening a book up to smell the newness as I flipped the pages. I sauntered aimlessly through the modern fiction, rattling off the titles of my favorite authors and dreamily quoting what I could as I peered through the poetry section. The sales people all said hi, noticeably trying not to disturb my familiar rituals; each recognizing me and my small play from the countless times I had already been there. Rarely buying, but always critically and languorously examining. When I finally had reached the travel section and finished planning fictitious vacations I would soon be on, I wrapped my scarf tightly around my neck, pulled down my hat and said good night to the security guard at the door.

It was five-ish and the sidewalk was filled with couples going to the movies next door and people running into the grocery just down the block for what I imagined was some last minute dinner preparation. I paid little attention to them all; picking up what I always thought was that awful New York habit of not noticing those around you. I catch myself from time to time and then make an honest effort to smile at the passers-by, but I am slowly losing that self-awareness. So as I was blindly fighting the cold and crowd to make my way home, a small voice said, “Lovely, isn’t it?”

Now there’s one sort of sense I’ve always had, and that is the ability to somehow know, despite my surroundings, when I am being spoken to. And in my small commuting haze, I stopped and turned toward the voice.

“I said, ‘lovely, huh’?”

And she pointed at the buildings behind me, a look of pure joy across her face.

“What? Wha . . .” But before I could ask which building, or maybe where she was from, thinking perhaps she had caught a glimpse of the Chrysler building, I realized she was pointing at the sky. A brilliantly red sky dipping behind the tops of the buildings and creeping past to a beautiful, awe-striking blue.

“Wow. You’re right, it is breath-taking.”

“They say it doesn’t happen here, but it’s just because no one looks. I used to teach first grade, and that sky there? The red? There’s a saying for it. Red in the morning sailors take warning, red at night sailor’s delight.”


I stood there just looking upward as she talked. She was so very much shorter than me, I was afraid I’d miss something if I turned to look down at her. When I finally did, I found her patiently waiting for me.

“Thank you for stopping me, I would have missed it completely.”

“Yes, well.”

And she gathered her coat collar around her and went to turn away.

"No, really. I never thought to look for it before. I will from now on."

I was having my own conversation now, thanking her for more than showing me the sky. Thanking her for reminding me it was still there. That I had not given that much up, I had just forgotten about it for a while. I was thanking her for reminding me.

“It will be a beautiful day tomorrow. That’s what it means. ‘Sailor’s delight’.”

And I’m sure it will be. For more reasons than I think she could have possibly meant.

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