Most days I walk to the canal behind my condo complex, where I see the most beautiful sunsets. I try to go every day, just to take the beauty while getting some exercise. I usually do not take my phone with me when I walk, but for a few days in a row I walked down, snapped a picture of the sunset, and posted it on Facebook, citing its beauty as a gift from God. Which it is! Today I walked down to see the sunset, and it was again spectacular. But I didn’t have my phone with me to take a picture. I was kicking myself, thinking that this one was especially beautiful and I’ll never be able to capture that image now. Which is true. But I then reminded myself that every single sunset I have seen has been unique. No two sunsets are alike. Some are spectacular, some are pretty, and on cloudy days some are gray. All have their own beauty and their own message: it is the end of yet another day in the circle of time.
Just as each sunset is a gift, and each one is different, each day is a gift, and each one is different. Sometimes when I am walking, I feel very small – two feet walking on this huge earth. What kind of a difference am I making? What meaning does being here right now have? The song from Cat Stevens often runs through my mind, “We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.”
I am a history buff, so I often put my thoughts into historical context. Decades or centuries ago, my ancestors, whoever they were, awoke with the sunrise and went to bed with the sunset. They did not have electricity or television or radios to keep them amused. I’m assuming my ancestors were not wealthy, so they were likely farmers, who lived off of the timetable of the land. They got married, they had babies, they worked the land from sunup to sundown, they feasted on holy days and had some celebrations, but most of the time they worked, slept, loved, raised children, danced on holidays, and the cycle was repeated again and again.
The song by Joni Mitchell comes to mind: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9VoLCO-d6U)
And the seasons they go round and round, And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
We are dancing on this earth for a short time, trying to make it worthwhile. As the centuries passed, as technology has increased, we found that we had more and more leisure time, and more activities to do in that time. We still work hard, most probably have more stress at work, and we pay for our new lifestyles. We have all kinds of distractions, from TV to our phones and ipads to computer games. We have unlimited leisure pursuits: we can travel the world (someday soon I hope), we dine out, we go to concerts and events, we watch spectator sports. There are so many opportunities to do so many things, and sometimes we may feel that if we are not doing all of these things, we are somehow missing out.
I just watched a TV show where a character was viewing a painting by Nicolas Poussin called A Dance to the Music of Time. The painting (shown here), is said to have four dancers. The first is Poverty, the male dancer. The next is Labor, or hard work, and if that is accomplished, it can lead to Wealth, which is the next dancer. After that comes Pleasure, and if the Pleasure is overdone, it circles back to Poverty. There are other examples in the painting of the passage of time, an hour glass and cupids blowing bubbles.
During this time of covid, many of us are rethinking what is important. One thing that I am learning in all of my newly acquired spare time is that if I am going out and having a wonderful time, yes I am experiencing the good life. But so is walking a few yards down the path to watch the sunsets each day. When I am looking to find meaning in life, it doesn’t come from buzzing from activity to activity, it comes from just being. When I am sitting down reading a good book, I am living. When I am having coffee with a friend, I am living. When I am sitting on my patio looking at my flowers, I am living. So, while doing things like traveling (which I do plan to do when I can) are wonderful things, so is watching a sunset.
We can also find purpose in the things that we do that add value to the lives of others. Today I remembered other moments when I felt really alive. When I used to work with people experiencing homelessness, I would leave the Mission exhausted, but with a feeling that cannot be matched. A feeling of contentment and of time well spent. Today I felt that feeling again when I went to cheer on the Black Lives Matter car convoy that some people in my church are doing once per month. These are not major projects or events, they are very simple things. But they feel good because I feel I am doing something to support some of the causes I believe in. I again felt like my two feet on this earth were making an impact.
I work with people who are dying in hospice. They don’t talk about how much money they made or the ends of the earth to which they traveled. They live in the moment and enjoy those moments. They reflect on lives they may have touched. That is living.
Isaiah 1:5 says “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.” It is the circle of life that God created. While we are on this earth for such a short time, I have learned that I am in the cycle of life by living each moment and by making each moment count, merely by enjoying the moment whatever I am doing, and by dancing whenever I can and wherever I am.
For more information about Poussin’s painting, click here: https://joyofmuseums.com/museums/united-kingdom-museums/london-museums/wallace-collection/a-dance-to-the-music-of-time/