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Marissa Patterson

who are you,little i

(five or six years old)
peering from some high

window;at the gold

of november sunset

(and feeling:that if day
has to become night

this is a beautiful way)(1)

Sunsets have always enchanted me. The way the sun starts to dip to the horizon, tawny amber and gold. When you speak of dying it is always in words like "fading away" or "wasting to nothingness," but the sun refuses to literally slip away in the night. The sun explodes into a veritable eruption of colors, each more vibrant than the one before. It begins deceptively simply, the glowing yellow of the first bouquet of spring daffodils. Next comes the burnished orange, the perfect tint of the coals of a fire burning brightly to warm you up after a day of playing in the snow. Moving on to rubicund cerise, your tongue and lips and teeth after your favorite cherry popsicle from the pool snack shop. The colors bleed onto the sky, as if the sun has melted like that popsicle, spreading over the clouds: rose pink, apricot, auburn. Then, almost imperceptibly the colors change, darken, cobalt, indigo, navy. Shapes fade as shadows replace detail and darkness creeps in. The first pinpricks of light begin to speckle the sky above you, tiny breaks in the formidable night that has somehow overtaken your sunset. Two, then three, and then suddenly the sky is filled with these infinitesimal diamonds, glittering despite the powerful darkness that surrounds them. And it has become night.

Some of my best childhood memories occurred sitting in my old living room on the couch, staring out through our sliding glass doors into the oncoming night. The sunset was the first thing I can remember as having the impact of being something beautiful to me. As e. e. cummings states in his poem above, I truly felt that if day must turn to night, bringing about an end to playing, a bath, and of course the dreaded bedtime, then of course it should be something amazing, worth capping off another incredible day.

Even as I grew (and in fact, still today) I look forward to the sunset. I don't quite understand my love, for I enjoy it for the fact that it constant and comes every night, as well as its ever-changing colors and timing. Most places I would travel, if the sky were clear there would be a sunset, the clouds would change color, the darkness would slowly creep in. Yet each night it is something new, different colors I strain to name, to identify. I always wished I could bottle up the sunset, save it in some way. Photographs never looked quite right, never captured the right mood, and as I was blessed with absolutely no artistic ability, my attempts at painting were abysmal failures.

And so I simply watched. Each new sunset experience was more beautiful than the others, each more perfect, and through my observations I developed a love for the beauty of stars as well, which seemed to pierce the night sky, breaking through the darkness.
It is not only the beauty of the day fading into darkness that I find beautiful. Being often of scientific persuasion, terms and concepts are ripe with beauty. For example, in reading for my biology class I came across the words "ciliated epithelium," a type of tissue found lining the nose and the fallopian tubes. Say it out loud, "ciliated epithelium," and the words trickle off your tongue, delighting your ears. The alliteration of the words tied with the newness of the concept sparked something in me, causing me to read on intently. Biology is beautiful to me, the way life processes occur. We don't even have to think to control it, but at this very moment our heart is beating and we are breathing in and out, and even deeper, our sinoatrial node is firing, causing our heart to beat and our lung cells are undergoing respiration, taking in oxygen. It amazes me that so many mechanisms in our body are able to work constantly, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and it is a rare occurrence that something goes noticeably wrong. It is in this seeming miracle of everyday normal functioning is extraordinarily beautiful to me. That cells of about twenty micrometers, smaller than the eye can see, can join together to make all five feet four inches of me is incredible! Each new concept I learn in biology just amazes me even more, from the way a plant cell can take in light and produce ATP to how my eye can take in light to produce a beautiful sunset.

Literature can be beautiful to me as well, reading creatively written words that touch my soul. One of my favorite books is The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom, and at the close of the book it states "each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories but the stories are all one. (2)" This book is about the interconnectedness of all people, how one person can irreversibly impact the life of another, even someone they do not know. This quote is beautiful because it sums up the story for me, but does not come right out and state what it means. The sense of confusion from the first words, each, other, add to the feeling one has while contemplating what it means. For me at least, it is overwhelming to understand exactly how my life affects others or to try and think if I have changed the life of someone I have not formally met. In this same way the words of the quote don't entirely make sense the first moment they are approached. It takes time to comprehend what the words mean, echoing the effort needed to understand how one person can influence the world.

As I think about the things that I believe are beautiful, the things that touch me, that effect me in ways it is hard to explain, I find myself drawn to a common theme. Many of the things I find beautiful are incomprehensible on some level. However, some of these things, when explained, become uglier, harsher, tainted.

The sunset, for example. I understand that it is colored because of the rotating of the earth, causing the sun to shine at a different angle through the atmosphere. However to me this description is not beautiful at all! I remember learning in a high school class about how higher levels of smog and pollution in the environment can cause more beautiful sunsets. This seems absurd to me, that something as pure and breathtaking as a sunset can be amplified by the same filthy substances that cause global warming. This new knowledge causes too much of a disunion between what I see and what I know. The pairing of something beautiful with its root cause, dirt and grime, is too much for me, and I am forced to forget, in a way, because looking at the sunset while thinking about the car exhaust that made it so beautiful ruins the experience, soils it so that all I can see it the filth and cannot see the beautiful colors.

It often is the same with literature. I love to read, and I love poetry. However, I took AP English at my high school and spent four years learning how to take a beautiful story and pick it apart, splitting it up and analyzing the diction, the tone, the imagery, in order to "fully understand" the piece. This attempt to try and break a poem up into little pieces to try to grasp what the author was trying to impart seems unreasonable to me. It is not what the author wants me to feel but what I actually feel that is important for a beautiful experience. If perhaps I read something and come away from it with a sense of loss, but then realize that the diction actually suggests that it is about love, this change of understanding completely undermines my initial reaction. To have to take a poem that I thought was beautiful reading it on its own and to try to pick it apart and find a deeper or truer meaning than the one I grasped was nearly painful sometimes. When I had a choice it was almost easier to choose a poem I didn't like as much, just so that I wouldn't have to destroy its beauty with my analysis.

Yet in the reverse, the beauty I find in biology is enhanced by my understanding. While I might look at a heart or a lung or a brain and find beauty in the organs themselves, it is more the processes that occur within these organs that amaze me. The intricate ways that functions occur I can only comprehend after learning about it. My experience is enhanced by my increasing conceptual knowledge. If I do not know about how the body carries oxygen in small red blood cells to the whole body, how could I find it beautiful?

I suppose that as I continue in my college experience I will learn about things that increase my concept of beauty, and yet I will also make realizations that perhaps make something I once thought was beautiful seem a bit more repulsive. I understand that it is inevitable that over time my perceptions of what is beautiful will change. Certain objects will no longer seem as attractive, and I will gain the appreciation of new and more beautiful creations. I do hope that in all of these replacements I will never lose my sunsets.

1. Cummings, E.E. Selected Poems .New York: Liveright Publishing Company. 1994.
2. Albom, Mitch. The Five People You Meet in Heaven. New York: Hyperion Publishing. 2003. 196.

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