By Amanda Cleary Eastep
About 50 of us spread out along the shoreline. Silhouettes, and strangers joined only in our intention to witness the big event.
The sun is about to set on the Gulf.
I had run ahead of my husband as soon as we parked along Gulf Blvd., because I was sure the sun would simply drop like a New Year’s Eve ball into the water without so much as a splash. My feet went from concrete to white sand, and I staked out our spot in line, amid decimated mollusk shells and abandoned sandcastles.
“I’ve seen hundreds of sunsets, honey,” my mother-in-law had answered when I asked her if she wanted to go with us.
“But every one is different,” was my uninspiring reply.
We’ve all seen at least one sunset in our lives. I suppose that’s why the beach isn’t packed with throngs of tourists and locals, screaming, The sun is setting! The sun is setting!
Yet here, everyone is quiet, watching, like we aren’t really sure of the ending.
There are the obvious resident Floridians, wrapped head to toe in blankets, because it is 62 degrees;
families with small children whose little feet curve over the thick ropes strung around the rocky, “danger” areas;
people with serious cameras and people with phone cameras, trying to capture what you never really can in that waning brilliance—an arm around a lover or the last bit of escape from the office world or the I-made-it-through peace that comes when the day is over.
I know the pictures will turn out more like screensavers instead of capturing the sacredness of the waves rolling in and bringing you a child’s crushed dandelion offering in the form of strange, gooshy sea things, kissing your toes, and sweeping your cares out into the deep.
After the sun dips below the horizon, there is a moment of fire, a glare of orange and blue smoke clouds.
But most of the onlookers have wandered off in different directions. Some back into the frames of brightly lit condo living rooms hung on the skyline behind us; some to the Friendly Tavern across the street, where bikers hunch over Budweisers and gay men laugh over multi-colored margaritas in cheap plastic cups; some to tuck in their children, not caring about sandy feet because they are glad for the limp bodies exhausted by smelling sea air and chasing seagulls.
We stay until I ask my husband if there are beach police who chase people away after dark. There is a couple with a stroller, and I am glad that they have started building an appreciation of quiet, regular beauty in their children. Another couple is still tossing a Frisbee that lights up as it flies low like the pelicans do.
They’re still here, too, because they don’t have to leave. They are just beyond the roped off danger area, floating, piercing the surface, gulping fish, and soaring back and forth, their wing tips a whisper away from the deep sighing of the water.
They’ve seen hundreds of sunsets.
They already know what we forget and have to remind ourselves of. That some things are certain, that the sun will rise and set, but that the predictability of it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It should be witnessed and celebrated.