Essay: Patience

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Words: Chad Ament
Photo: Ian Hylands
Originally published in Issue #40

I was stopped along the side of a narrow ribbon of pavement in the hills of Tennessee, where the roads are glorious and the traffic peaceful. In complete silence I stood watching the sun lower itself, at an almost imperceptible rate, behind the ancient Appalachians.

“It gets even better,” the man in front of me said softly, breaking the stillness like a leaf falling into a pond. “Everyone leaves too soon before the best colors come out. You have to be patient, not leaving until you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. Only then is the show over.”

We exchanged backgrounds. I explained I was only in town for a weekend bike race, but was very much enjoying exploring his rural area. “Lifelong local,” he said. “That mountain over there,” he motioned with his hand, “the sun is balanced right on top of it if you come back and watch in January. Either the 17th or 18th is usually the best day, I haven’t made up my mind yet.”

After a few more minutes of stillness he spoke up again. “I used to travel a lot too, used to be athletic, ran track in school. I retired from work when my heart went bad, seems to happen when you turn 55 years old, just something about that age.”

We then returned to stillness. The sun, now noticeably lower, persuaded me to leave the peaceful serenity of the field and complete my ride back to the hotel. The man and I exchanged appreciation for the conversation, and while he never told me his name, he did say if I ever return, “You can find me in this same spot any night with a clear sunset.” After a short pause, he added, “At least for a while yet.”

Miles away on the bike, I crested a hill and popped out of the wooded canopy I had been concealed under to a sky that, though it no longer had a visible sun, was as vividly colorful as any sherbet I have ever seen. I thought about the man in the field, and I could imagine the smile on his face growing as the colors got bolder and bolder before dissipating into darkness. I arrived back to my hotel, but not before all light had gone.

There is only so much time in a day, as we are reminded by every setting sun. Sometimes it is not until the very last light that the best colors come out, only then is the show over.

 

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