Sunsets, New Beginnings, and Uncertainty

By Lillian Rutledge

In Albert Camus’ The Stranger, an existentialist novel, the sun causes Meursault to lose his sanity and his compassion, but it isn’t until the sun actually sets that he experiences this loss; specifically in jail following his trial, Meursault becomes distraught with God, with life in general, and feels as if all is lost as the sun sets and day becomes the night. As an eighteen-year-old, I’m now watching my sun sink low below the horizon, now on the brink of this new world of adulthood. As a consequence, I’m questioning my life, my very existence, wondering if the same sun setting now will greet me in the morning, groggy with a bad case of bedhead.

To ensure the sun would rise in the morning, the Aztecs would sacrifice a human to their sun god, Huītzilōpōchtil. I’m not going to say that it didn’t have any bearing on the sun rising because the sun did rise in the morning, but obviously I can’t secure my future the same way as this ancient civilization did (murder is illegal in all fifty states); still, I can’t help but wonder if this sunset will result in an eventual sunrise. This sun (representative of the end and the beginning of chapters in your life) is sinking on the only chapter I’ve ever known, and in this sense, I suppose I’m afraid of this sunset in particular because what if the sun doesn’t rise in the morning? What if I fail?

This fear of failure, of the sun going down and the light of day never appearing is common, but I think it’s become increasingly present in my own generation. We as a collective group know nothing of a world without financial stress, without war, without extinction of beloved animals, without the alarming rate at which climates on our Earth are changing. We are timid yet bold, fearful yet reckless, anxiety-ridden but with an intense amount of spontaneity humming in our veins. The sun will set, this we know- will we survive the dark? Will we see our new beginning? How do we know we won’t mess up this world, our lives, and all of our futures in one go?

We fear failure, we fear nighttime because our ancestors did. We fear that the sun won’t rise because we’ve never experienced this type of ending before. As asked before, what if we fail and our sun never rises? What if we become our destructive forefathers?

In spite of these worries of eternal darkness that sunsets bring, we go to sleep with the firm belief that the sun will, in fact, rise tomorrow morning. We can’t control this natural phenomenon; sunrises and sunsets aren’t meant to be controlled or meant to provide you with a path to where you want to be, they’re meant to illuminate actions you must take. As the sun sinks and whatever phase of life you’re in comes to an end, and the reflection of such brings you sadness or joy or no true emotion at all, remember that a new phase, a new volume of life is about to begin. You stand on the precipice of a challenge unlike any other you’ve faced before, it doesn’t matter whether you’re eighteen or seventy-six, and you will have to live through it, rain or shine.

There is no true definable sunrise for any one person, after all, if you were to ask a group of five people about a sunrise they watched together, you’d receive different answers on what it looked like. Some would report more oranges than pinks, some green, and some red. That said, sunrises come after a period of uncertainty following change, like what antecedes graduation, death, marriage, or that of the birth of a child. Sunrises signify that you have changed as a being.

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