“I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn’t,
So I jumped in and sank.” – Langston Hughes
The four of us were sitting in a row, our toes buried in the warm sand and our minds buried in thought. The silence broke.
“The sunset is so beautiful here, I have to make this my story,” Olivia noted.
Olivia was the most diffident out of the bunch. I had known her since I was little. She was a sweet girl, but a couple of bouts of unrequited love and family issues had shaken her – turned her into someone who lived to please and impress others. It was myself, Olivia, Malcolm, and Jasmine. The latter two had been dating for as long as I could remember, so everything turned into a pseudo-double-date when we got together. Any time we wanted to recollect good times or needed thought-provoking deep discussion, the appropriate setting seemed to be a hill or beach overlooking the sunset. Although I guess it was more of a generational thing – an escape from distractions. Regardless, there we lie.
“It’s alright,” Malcolm stated, as if it were a fact.
“WHY DO YOU ALWAYS DO THAT?! You never agree with anything I say. You can’t deny that kind of beauty,” she snapped.
We all set our gaze upon the sunset for a while, none of us speaking.
“I didn’t say it wasn’t beautiful. I just don’t like the sunset over the horizon, on a conceptual level,” he said.
“You’re so dramatic. ‘On a conceptual level’? What the fuck does that even mean? Just shut up.”
She seemed annoyed.
“Okay, you’re right,” Malcolm conceded.
I shook my head, knowing what was coming next. I shifted positions on my beach towel, lining my torso up with Malcolm’s in order to be heard more clearly.
“No, I want to hear about your moral objection to the sunset. Explain,” I said.
Jasmine non-verbally agreed by nodding her head and Olivia gained an even deeper look of annoyance. She shifted on her towel as well, lining her body up with ours.
“Okay,” he said.
Malcolm had this way of speaking like a preacher at the old school Baptist and African Methodist churches I had grown up in. He started off very slowly, as if he was still forming his thoughts. He would look around and grab ideas out of the air, molding them together, one-by-one. Then you began to see it.
He cleared his throat.
“Well,” he started.
“The uh-.. reason you see the horizon is due to the curvature of the earth, right? It’s the furthest point from us that we can see, at the elevation we’re at,” he said. Malcolm scanned across the horizon.
“Which means that as we travel toward the horizon, it’s just going to keep getting further and further, because the world is a sphere and we will never reach the end,” he added.
Malcolm lowered his brow. “You want to look at the horizon and the sunset because it’s so large and grandiose and it’s the furthest thing the eye can see, and that excites you, to look at something which is so far ahead – even though it is unattainable.” He paused. “What you fail to realize is that there are an infinite number of objects between where we are right now and that horizon. There may be a bird in your plane of sight, or a tree, or a dolphin. There are ten to the nth power atoms between you and the horizon. Remember learning about atoms in chemistry? The chaos which comprises nature? The random spontaneity, yet magnificent order that makes up everything in this world? It’s beauty in itself. Yet the only thing we notice is a ball of fire which is 92 million miles away and not getting any closer.”
Malcolm stopped speaking for a moment. He gestured across the landscape with his right hand, waving his fingers along the horizon.
“Maybe a bird flies across your line of sight. You might dart your eyes to it for a moment, then continue looking at your horizon. I understand why. You saw a hundred birds yesterday, you’ve seen a hundred birds today, and you assume you’ll see a hundred birds tomorrow. But what happens when winter rolls around and those birds make the 3,000 mile trip somewhere warmer? You wake up to silence and cold and some of the beauty that you rarely appreciated is dying – life becomes slightly less fulfilling. But you still have your sunset and your horizon, so you endure until the birds and the plants come back next year – because you know they WILL come back next year.”
He paused to gather his thoughts, then continued.
“But what happens when they don’t come back?”
“What do you mean?”, Jasmine asked after a while.
“Well it’s a metaphor for life. Fortunately, we’re still young. There’s so much excitement, beauty, and wonder in this world – for us especially – because everything is relatively new. The horizon represents a time where we will have accomplished the things we want to and will have lived most of our lives. When we get there, it’ll be the most amazing thing one could hope for – I think that’s why we hold such focus on it. My problem with the horizon is that if you stare at it long enough, you won’t see anything else. It’s so big and overwhelming that in pursuit of the ultimate prize that is reaching the horizon, we won’t notice the little gifts that we are able to run, jump, and grab. We shrug them off as insignificant in comparison.”
Malcolm sat up and brushed the sand from his torso.
“People always say you should keep your eyes fixed on the future, not the past. I prefer to keep my eyes fixed on the ground, where I stand. Someone might argue that focusing on the future helps you build a better one, but I’ll compromise security for beauty any day.”
“Damn,” I said.
Silence fell over our group. We exchanged looks for a while. The water before us became still.
“The beauty lies in the space between us and the horizon.”