Whilst on a pleasant evening stroll on the Greenbelt – a popular scenic path that criss-crosses 25 miles throughout Boise – I happened to come across a familiar face. On a bridge overlooking the Snake River stood a man staring out over the waters as if distracted by a pleasant reverie; arms crossed and mane of white hair being tousled gently in the soft summer breeze. An old wise lion of a man, his twinkling gray eyes resonating with a mysterious, sage aura. As we passed by, a look of slight recognition passed between each of our faces, and we greeted one another cordially. I was with my boyfriend, and we had all met on the same bridge during our previous twilight crusade on the Greenbelt. Conversation turned to the fact that we all possess a shared interest in science – he mentioned that he completes lab work at the college we attend. The man said that he himself majored in humanities, and with a chuckle made a passing comment that he just wanted to have his fun in college, and that we will have no trouble finding ourselves jobs when we graduate with our science degrees.
After some more chatter, he turned back to his sunset, and became quite animated as he began to digress. The white-haired lion told us about how every night, he watches the sun go down from that same exact spot, and went on to describe the sunset in such a profound way, I can only hope my feeble memory can do his words justice. He stands there every evening and notices that most people only stay to stop and watch the sunset for the brief brilliant flash of red from the sun’s initial decent beneath the tree line. But the most breathtaking moments arrive after the pretty flash, he says, you lose yourself in the scene when the fleets of royal purples, cascades of subtle oranges, and waves of dusky blues each in their own turn paint the sky with their brilliant hues, which is after the ardent sun tucks itself in for a long night beneath the horizon. Yet most people miss this fantastic light show, for they do not stay long enough to witness one of nature’s greatest performances unfold before their very eyes.
Everyone is in such a hurry from day-to-day that they only stay for the obvious and cliché moment. What they don’t realize is how powerful and acute one sunset can be. The sun doesn’t simply burn out in one intense instant, it fades. When we take the time to notice and observe that subtle fading, we become a more engaged and conscious observer of the known universe. We become more learned, more singularly aware. Why notice only the reckless glorification of a single moment when we can instead tie in all the patterns in the string of time and recognize the beauty in a collective sunset, a collective lifetime. I think this is what John Green meant when he addressed the students of Butler University is his commencement speech, saying, “You may have heard that it is better to burn out than it is to fade away. That is ridiculous. It is much better to fade away. Always. Fade. Away.”
We left the man standing alone on the bridge, promising ourselves that next time we will watch the sun sink slowly and the magnificent colors put on their show for us. Next time, we will fade with the sun. But when will this elusive “next time” happen? It is often all too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, without realizing what you’re missing. Eyes closed, walking through life unaware. Perhaps John Green is asking too much of us when he tells us to always choose the path of fading, the path of recognizing more than just what is right in front of you, of searching out meaning and truth for yourself. Or perhaps it’s as easy as just changing our stride and deciding to walk that path.
“A life in harmony with nature, the love of truth and virtue, will purge the eyes to understanding her text.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson