I spent the last couple weeks visiting my parents.
I’ve been lucky in the parent department. It’s fashionable to recall some pivotal incident that occurred when we were eight and extrapolate how every difficulty experienced in our life since is a result. But I’ve never seen any truth to this in my own life. I was really happy when I was eight—and I give my parents full credit.
My life is very different from my parents’ life. Still, they have always been supportive and have always at least pretended to be interested in whatever I was doing as I careened from one career to the next. When, in my 50s, I started to write, my parents were characteristically enthusiastic, with only the occasional exception (perhaps when I wrote in a column how my mother used to garden in her red bikini).
They have always lived a life they enjoy and are proud of, and have encouraged me to do the same. Now in their 80s, my parents still inspire me. Most recently, it was at sunset.
My parents live in a cabin high on a hill overlooking the lake, so you have to climb a lot of steps to get from the cabin down to the shore. My father built the steps down to the lake. In the middle of the climb, there is a bench where (my dad insists) there is a good place to admire the view. (It happens to also be a good place to rest on the way up—but I’ll let him stick to his story.)
Almost every evening, my parents find their way down to the water’s edge. They take a seat on the dock and watch the sun set across the lake. They listen to the loons call to one another across the water and watch the clouds turn pink as the sun disappears in the evening sky.
Then they do it all over again.
Because the cabin sits so far above the shore, when they climb back up the hill, the sun is no longer below the horizon but just beginning to set again—a second sunset.
So, my parents take a seat outside their cabin and watch the whole thing all over again—from a different perspective. I tell my parents I admire the life they have created for themselves. They have this great cabin, fun friends and neighbors, they bike all summer, ski all winter, and at the end of every day, they get an extra sunset.
I’d like an extra sunset.
By middle age, I thought I could already see the sun going down. I figured I knew, more or less, how the story ended. It turns out I was wrong.
Today, I am doing things I never dreamt of doing 15 years ago, things I never imagined I could do. But now, as I scramble up the hill in the end-of-the-day light, I realize how much there is to do in the late afternoon, how much is left to see. I’d feel a lot sillier if I were the only one panting up the hill, but I have a lot of company. All around me I see folks looking for that second sunset: picking up paintbrushes and pens and college degrees, trying on new haircuts and new beliefs. Sometimes it’s a little embarrassing—but we don’t really care.
Like my parents, we’re just grateful to get this extra sunset. We’re so glad the sun hasn’t gone down after all. We just needed a different perspective. We just needed to get to higher ground.