When you fly west in the evening, it feels like the sunset will last forever. The earth spins below you and the sun persists; stretching across the horizon, and across the construct of time. Your clock be damned, this is as close as you’ll get to freezing it.
Recently, I was somewhere over Illinois—watching the blue sky fade to green and yellow, then to orange, red, and finally to a neon color so bright it looked almost manufactured—when something beyond the everlasting sun dawned on me. I figure it took so long because I was focused on now instead of then. But now was altered by my realization, and now, behind my face shield, quiet tears fell from my eyes. It was only my face mask that prevented me from tasting the salt of my wounds.
I’ve always been wise to anniversaries, both the exceptional and the excruciating. But that day, it had been a year, not since I saw my father last—no, I was with him when he passed—but a year since I saw him last as him. I suppose I’d put that in the exceptional category, no matter how bittersweet my tears taste with the memory. (When I’m not wearing a face mask, of course.)
My father hadn’t lost his personality after he fell—both ill and literally. When he was awake and his pain was tolerable, he still cracked jokes, despite the crack in his leg. He still sang Elvis, and talked and talked and talked. “Be positive,” we swore he said. It appeared he was. But his awareness came and went; and mostly we couldn’t understand him, mostly his brain just wasn’t as it had been. So January 3, 2020—nearly two months before his final breath—is a day I hold on to, a day I hugged him still thinking we’d have years of hugs to come.
As I watched the sun paint the sky one year later, I felt the sadness seep from my eyes, and my heartache hollow out my chest. But unlike the colors outside the airplane window, the feelings faded sooner rather than later. I felt bliss, blessed—and mostly—at peace. I didn’t need to remind myself to be present, but I did tell myself to appreciate it, to embrace it, to be grateful for those moments with the sun—just as I feel grateful for each moment I shared with my father.
The night sky finally fell somewhere over Nebraska that day. The darkness overtook the blue-green-yellow-orange-red. I hadn’t anticipated when that would happen, only knowing that it would—eventually. Eventually the sunset that felt infinite would come to an end—just like my father’s time on earth, and someday, mine; someday, yours.
Just now I slipped my father’s watch on my wrist, just as I had when I discovered it in his house on my recent visit. I hadn’t intended to take it then, but when I realized I was still wearing it some hours later, I opted to keep it. When he wore it last is a mystery to me, but I do know when it stopped ticking—at 6:36 and 6.5 seconds. I’d like to think he was watching a sunset in that moment—or maybe even, a sunrise.
Life has this way of reminding us of its impermanence, but how often are we paying attention?