2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK
“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night I bet they would live a lot differently.”
It was cold by Southwest Florida standards.
As a result, nobody was around.
Cool, cushioning sand encased my bare feet as I meandered without intention or destination. The wind blew diagonally from the north and the surf responded. I watched the waves. No two were alike, yet all were the same.
I veered toward the tall grasses that swayed as they marked the outer limits of the sand’s domain. I was waiting without a watch or a worry as all who have known the draw of the ocean have done before me.
In this case, I was here to witness the sun fade into the Gulf of Mexico as it had done more than twenty thousand times since the day I was born.
As I left the tall grass and descended toward the water’s edge, I startled a small black-and-white ocean bird. It’s the kind you always seem to come across where the land meets the sea, a bird you recognize by sight but not by species or name. This one, I feared, was not long for this world. She was alone in a place where her kind typically congregates in a flowing mass.
As I passed she tried again and again to shake her wings and will them into action, but flight was impossible. The seashore is an unforgiving place for a tiny, wounded bird that cannot fly.
I unexpectedly reciprocated her shiver and let out a sigh. The outcome seemed certain. The words of American mythologist Joseph Campbell came to mind: Life eats life.
I checked the sun and moved on, plucking an occasional shell from the beach and contemplating its uniqueness before letting it fall back to the sand and surf.
Now the sun seemed to accelerate as the inevitable collision of sky and earth drew near.
Before me sat the remnant of a Game of Thrones–like castle formed from the sand. Most of it was gone, but two towers at the far corner clung together.
I sat before the ruins where the sun could be seen between the two remaining pillars. A formation of pelicans drifted by. The sun fell further and there I sat, alone yet at peace with all the world. My breathing became rhythmic and for a moment I was seeing in what Black Elk called “a sacred manner.”
And then, almost instinctively, I decided I should take a picture and post it to Instagram, so all my followers could see what I see.
How artsy this is . . . the sun falling into the sea between two sand-castle towers. Everyone should see this. Not only should they see it, they should see it now. In real time. In full color.
So I groped for my phone, finally extracting it from my back pocket. The momentum of my immersion into the landscape was broken.
I took a picture, then another, and then another. None satisfied me. Suddenly time was not on my side. Moments earlier, time had had no side.
Each picture was not quite right. In many, a red blot from the light of the sun would reflect and appear in a place where it shouldn’t be, as if intentionally defaming the authenticity of each shot.
The sun continued to fall.
I tried again.
My timeless moment had become a chore. I had returned without thought to that which I had come here to avoid—tasks, timelines, and the need to please the outside world.
* * *
I did eventually post a picture and it came out okay. It got fifty-eight likes, and that was fine.
But my personal solo sunset experience was not enhanced. I had, in fact, detracted from my own encounter.
In the end everything was still, of course, all good. I was thankful for the visit to the beach and I biked away in peace, but as I pedaled a part of me wished I had stayed more focused on the experience of personally witnessing the sun dropping for its one and only time between those two towers of sand that would not survive the evening’s tide.
* * *
I once had a powerful vision-quest experience alone on a large rock, warmed by the sun as I looked up at Devils Tower in the Black Hills. After closing my eyes for some time a white buffalo appeared before me. I learned later that the white buffalo is perhaps the most sacred sight a person of Lakota blood could see.
One day I told a friend on the Pine Ridge Reservation about my vision.
“Wow,” he replied simply.
“I don’t know how I’ll share that experience with others,” I said, breaking the silence.
“Kevin, that vision wasn’t meant for anybody else,” he said softly. “It was just for you.”
There are moments for phones and picture sharing, but there are also a few sacred moments meant for you alone. The strength gained from a sunset viewed alone is in fact shared with all the world through the generative act of serving yourself. When we honor ourselves, we strengthen from within. When we strengthen from within, we expand our capacity to serve the world.
“Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.”
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.