Sunday in the Park
June 11, 2010
When the late afternoon thunder clouds roll in, I wish I was a painter. That otherworldly, electrically charged light that picks out single leaves on a tree branch and keeps the others in shadows evaporates too soon. The story of the streaked sky, as sunset approaches, with broad strokes of orange and red and something purplish against the black clouds, belongs to the brush of someone like Maynard Dixon and not to the pen of a writer. The best one can do sometimes is to acknowledge the sense of awe at something so grand because it is so fleeting.
Last Sunday evening I was at a lovely dinner on the outskirts of Jeremy Ranch with an eclectic group of international folks who mostly had ties to the University of Utah. The food was incredible and exotic and the conversations as stimulating as any I have been introduced to in years. But as the evening progressed and the storm clouds quickly gathered outside, with the thunder cracking and lightning illuminating the mountains, conversation was abruptly aborted. The professors, the horse breeder, the poet and the doctors were reduced to simple words — "wow" and "cool" and "ahhmazing." Nature was the just dessert.
Storms were brewing again, later in the week, when I met an old friend after work. We dashed the picturesque illusion of sitting outside to catch up, hurried indoors and opted for a table by the window instead. Like the way a good sunset seems to have no beginning and no end, I’ve lost track of how I met her. It was work-related, I think, maybe 20 years ago. We share a lot of friends from those early writing days when the town had less than 5,000 people year round and we knew them all by name, along with vehicle and drink preference. And though I have always admired her, we have mostly been friends around our jobs.
In catching up, we discovered we had been on parallel personal paths of health and family issues in recent years. In two hours, our decades-old foundation allowed us to move swiftly from pleasantries to profundities. And at the evening’s end, brought short only because of other family commitments, I rediscovered a person of both great integrity and great joy, against, in some cases, almost all odds.
As I write this, there is yet another in the series of late-afternoon storms that influence the sunset. Like residents of Seattle or Hawaii, we no longer interrupt our activities. The walk/run/ride is now punctuated by the sweet smell of wet sage. And sitting on the porch, under the eaves, is a kind of staycation that is made the richer by sleeping with the windows and doors open to catch the hypnotic music of the night — raindrops on the wooden deck and metal outdoor table and lightly touching down on the grass.
We have become accustomed, in our current culture, to making excuses and canceling engagements last minute. It is a strangely accepted new form/norm of social behavior. "Something has come up" rarely needs an extended explanation. Like the technology surrounding us, we move quickly to the next thing. I must confess I had started to cancel both the engagements I just wrote about. I was tired, I had too much to — not even catch up on but try to catch. In the first case, I would be meeting new people and it required thinking about what I wore and said. With the after-work connection, I had to fight the urge to just burrow in and go home, keep working and reschedule for another time, even though this one had taken us more than a month to coordinate.
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With the tiniest bit of reflection I think I figured out my lesson of the week. Life doesn’t come with freeze-frame equipment that you can choose to play back at a more convenient time. The moment is offered, like a sunset, and either you stop and take it in or it evaporates. Like snowflakes and the thought, you can’t stand in the same river twice; life moves on its own currents, swiftly ahead. There are other moments but never the same moment. And I could have missed two evenings I will now cherish for a long, long time.
I am anticipating a simple weekend of dodging some of the predicted weather for a date with a grandchild and giving into the weather for some time possibly with brownie making and a book. It is the Zen-like concept of trying to be in the moments, and with some reverence, I will try to embody this very Sunday in the Park
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She is also a former editor of The Park Record.