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A bittersweet sunset
A stunning sunset and learning life's most important lesson
Last Sunday evening my partner and I spontaneously decided to make the most of the glorious weather at summer’s end. We took a picnic up our favourite local hill to watch the sunset with our dog Koda in tow.
I expected that it would be the perfect evening to end a perfect day.
After a short drive, the three of us ventured out onto a familiar path that led into a jungle of bracken. Whenever we first step out onto this path, I always feel a release. The chaos of my mind and the struggles of daily life fall away.
I traced my fingers over rough reaching leaves as I always do. Before us was a sea of bracken broken up by patches of birch and thick deciduous woodland stretching away towards rolling hills. A wild place of ravens, snakes, stonechats and skylarks.
A short hike later we reach our favourite spot nestled between a few rocks on the brow of the hill. From here we can see the distant silver line of the Severn Estuary. Caerphilly’s wooded landscape is laid out below us. The sky is so clear we can see for miles. To our amazement, we realise we can see South Wales’ highest peak, Pen Y Fan.
As the sun gently sank beneath the hills, it drew out astonishing colours. Fiery oranges fading into cerulean blue. But it was the clouds that really made the sunset their own that evening. Dappled and delicate wisps of lavender swept across the sky slowly darkening to shadowed violet.
The magic of sunsets is that no one is ever the same. Yet a strange poignant deja-vu settled on us as we sat there on our quiet hill.
My journal app on my phone had alerted me that two years ago on this day we had been here in the exact same place at the same time. The last of summer’s sunshine similarly had called us here to our local patch of semi-wilderness.
As I recalled the echoes of that former moment, the sharp pain of regret and empathy for my past self seeped into my bones.
We had come on that day as a celebration, I had been offered a new job (getting my career back on track), the worst of the pandemic was over, and it was my partner’s birthday the next day. It had been a joyous moment, filled with hope for the future. Finally, a happy life had felt within touching distance.
I think back to that past version of myself, so oblivious of the pain, loss and trauma that was to come. I was a sweet summer child. In this fresh moment foreshadowed by that lost moment in time, I longed for that former hope and naive optimism that is now lost to me forever.
Since then I have developed the ability to hold both positivity and pain in my heart simultaneously. I cannot regret all that I’ve learnt. All that I have become (or returned to). I wish it hadn’t taken a series of unfortunate events over the past few years and the agony of grief to shake off the angst, anxiety and masking that dominated my twenties.
There is also bitterness and deep sadness that I can’t share the person I have become and my new ability to find joy with the person who wanted that for me the most.
Having been in darkness for so long, I have learnt how to appreciate the light. And what a blazing beautiful light that sunset was. I acknowledged the pain and then let myself enjoy the moment.
Grief can break us but it also can make us stronger and more courageous. It doesn’t have to be grief for the loss of a person. It can be grief for losing who you once were. It can be grief for the lost potential when you finally discover who you are. These are all forms of grief that I have experienced.
Life is not a journey towards happiness, the myth that we are sold by a capitalist society. Life is uncertain and it can be cruel. It is as changeable and chaotic as the weather; sunshine, rain and earth-shattering storms.
We must cherish the happy moments, live in them, and be grateful for them even if they are imperfect. Squeeze every bit of joy and appreciation out of them. Not let ourselves be distracted by what’s next because the darkness will come again.
The darkness that life throws at us makes the light shine so much brighter. Finally, I see and endeavour to live that now.
I will ever be grateful for bittersweet sunsets.