The sunset made me cry and other clichés

Studying the looking glass

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6 p.m. Orange turns to pink which turns to purple which turns to the darkest of blues. Seamlessly, the classic colors wash over each other. Perhaps most notably, tears spill out of my eyes and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. 

Minutes later, as the merging blues and purples turn into twinklings of the city, my tears subside. I wipe them away quickly, hoping my companion didn’t catch those momentary lapses in composure. The twinklings, luckily, are calming, reminding me of the whole world outside — of the thousands of lives and lights that regularly operate on frequencies that don’t concern me. It is both humbling and otherworldly; both so routinely everyday and yet somehow still moving. 

Sunsets in general are the stuff of Instagram posts and Hallmark cards — monopolized by cameras and exploited by influencers, a sunset’s beauty doesn’t always feel real. It’s difficult to feel moved by a phenomenon that exists everywhere — we are desensitized, unsurprisingly so. 

Yet there was something undeniably emotional about focusing on the sun as it went down that day. It reminded me of that scene in “Notting Hill,” when Hugh Grant walks down a street in London and all four seasons fade into each other in his stride. It’s a gorgeous, seamlessly edited scene, representing the months that pass by after Julia Roberts’ character leaves and Grant is left to deal with his heartbreak. In film jargon, this is called temporal ellipsis: witnessing the passage of time in a few seconds. 

Sunsets feel a little bit like that — the nature of a sunset is of transition, of the inevitable acceleration of time. When you watch a sunset, that passage is laid out bare in front of you — the slow motion and brilliant hues, all screaming reminders of temporality and at some tiny level, our own mortality. What could be more humbling?

I can confirm that there is a certain kind of power we feel when we latch onto a piece of art that no one has chanced upon yet. It is intimate, almost like a secret conversation with the artist and the deepest, most clandestine parts of ourselves. But this is different — everyone sees the sunset. A little bit like watching a movie in the cinema hall, one is bathed in light and entrapped in an intimate space. It is as public as viewing gets. Yet unlike a movie screening, a sunset is simple: There are no relatable characters or tear-inducing tragedy. I find myself questioning why it feels more emotional.

Perhaps it is the organic, inherent realness of the phenomenon. Perhaps it is the blanket silence with my companion that the scene invites, and the consequential introspection on the weight of the present moment. Perhaps it is the bittersweet knowledge that the day is ending; that nature seems to want to let me know that the active hours of daylight with the person next to me have come to an end. 

I feel inclined to admit that there is a certain allure to shared, universal experiences, no matter how cliché. These experiences may not give me an opportunity to forge a certain kind of deep, specific connection with somebody, but they forge a bond that goes unsaid — a sort of mutual understanding of the weight of the moment. The same applies to how we experience art: Not everyone might relate to my often-boring propensities for strange movies or maximalist fiction, but everyone can watch a sunset. We don’t need to have a mutual cultural understanding or watch the same films or read the same novels; the beauty of a sunset is that it is abstract. It speaks for itself, like a Pollock or a Mondrian, giving me the opportunity to either ruminate or to remain delightfully blank, basking in its glory. 

It is difficult to admit that these everyday experiences have the power to move me – that an Ariana Grande song can be more than just a shower song, that I can genuinely, unironically enjoy a superhero movie, or that something as basic as the sun setting every day has the ability to induce unexplained tears. Art not only has a remarkable power to do that, but it also has the power to forge deep human connection beyond logical explanation. 

I still won’t fully know why I cried that day. What I do know is that I don’t want to shy away from enjoying the ordinary. Despite my grievances, I do want to embrace the mainstream as a more accessible base to connect with the people around me, to recognize that moments of shared emotion are just as valuable a part in experiencing art. Emotion doesn’t always have to be logically reasoned. Like a sunset, it can just be felt — passing through us and moving us inevitably.

Megha Ganapathy writes the Monday A&E column on learning and growing from experiences with art. Contact her at [email protected].