Every sunset is a sunrise somewhere else.
As the sun sets on Toronto one day in early August, it’s rising on what remains of the Aral Sea and, in another minute or three, on the whole west coast of India. As it sets on Calgary, it has just lately risen on the African coast of the Red Sea. For every sunset and sunrise, there is a whole set of places in the world that are crossing the terminator line of the sun’s shadow at that moment, turning away from or towards the sun. They are bound and set so to do, as long as the earth is moving as it is.
Poets write about sunsets, from time to time. But that’s like singing a song about a painting. There is no conversion rate between images and words; the words carry sounds and ideas the images never could, but the images bring things words have no hope of tattooing in black on white with their abstract little lines.
We like the sunset because we are there for it (how much less often are most of us awake to see the sunrise!), and because it is there for us, at eye level, the sun’s rays passing at a flat angle through the atmosphere, skimming across clouds. At the last, as it is cut by the horizon, you can look at it for more than a moment. And you want to look at it, because it has contrast and colour: all the things that your eye seeks as a treat but that are too harsh during the day are there on a dessert tray at sunset, completed by the contrast between the daylight before and the nightdark after. During the day we take the sun for granted, we seek the shade, we don’t look straight at it, but when we have turned far enough away from it we pause and appreciate it just before we can’t see it, and then it is gone.
But of course it’s still there. It’s all just our perspective, on our spinning ride. Every second of every day, from the beginning of the earth through now to the very end of our planet, there is a shadow line, a set of sunrise and sunset. When it is our time at the line, we can enjoy it if we want. When I visit my parents in Alberta I like to go for walks and see the sun go down. Back in Toronto, though that’s where my favourite song about watching the sunset was written, I much less often see it – there are buildings in the way. So be it.
You know the word sunset, of course, and you can see its parts. Sun is a grand old Germanic word, not related to son though it sounds the same in English now. Set is not so much one word as a set of words, or rather two sets. One of those sets is related to sect and refers to groups and such things. The other is related to sit and refers to going down, putting down, being in place. You can easily enough tell in which set to set sunset. (There is a third Set, the Egyptian god of war, chaos, and storms. Sometimes that Set unsettles the sunset. But we can set him aside.)
It is tempting to use sunset as a metaphor. But if you must, remember this, set this down: on the earth it is always sunset and always sunrise and always neither, and what we experience at any time just depends on where we are… and we will come around to each again and again.