I used to take a lot of sunset pictures, but I haven’t felt much like it this year. I wanted to test something about my camera, though, so I went to a hill near where I live Thursday evening to wait for sunset.
My iPhone’s weather app told me that sunset would be at 7:41 p.m. I was in place three minutes early, with my iPhone and my Canon T3i. There were clouds, but the light didn’t look promising. Except for a few spotty pink streaks, the sky was gray.
I know from experience that the color can suddenly appear up to about 10 minutes after sunset, so I waited. But nothing happened. The sky continued to look gray with a few very minor streaks of color from time to time. When the clock got to 7:55 and there was still nothing worth photographing, I was disappointed.
I decided to quit waiting. I got into the car and started driving down the hill where I’d been waiting.
When I had driven almost completely down the hill, I suddenly looked up and saw an amazing pastel image of flaming shades of orange and pink mixed with gray and black. It was perfect, but I was now out of position.
I quickly turned the car around and got to a decent vantage point. It wasn’t quite as good a spot as where I’d been to start with, but it would still work. I jumped out of the car and had time to shoot about four frames — right before the vibrant rays of colorful light faded away just as quickly as they had appeared.
As I stood there watching the last delicate pieces of God’s artwork fading into the darkness, it occurred to me that this was a lot like many things in life that we wait for. Paradoxically, there are many times when the perfect opportunity for achieving a goal comes right after we’ve given up on it.
When I want something very badly, I’m not always patient. We live in an age when we think we should have everything we want — right now. We don’t literally believe that, of course, but I think we end up being influenced by that way of thinking even if we don’t want to be.
When it comes to the things that matter most in life, how much would we have that we desperately want if we were willing to keep waiting, keep working and keep believing that we’re going to have them?
I know we can’t have everything we want. I’ll never be an NBA basketball player. I’ll never captain a starship and explore deep space. If I spent my life waiting for someone to recognize my obvious qualifications to be the next James T. Kirk — and build the starship to match — I would die as a disappointed old man. And I’d ignore numerous great (and realistic) opportunities along the way. So, yes, we can carry it too far.
But I think we default to giving up too easily on our dreams instead of believing for too long.
I’ve been talking lately with a 25-year-old woman who is frustrated with where she is in life. She had dreams and desires, but she followed the preferences of her mother instead. She went to college where her mother wanted. She tried to pursue what her mother wanted her to do. She believed it would have been selfish to pursue what she wanted.
Now that she realizes she should have pursued her own desires, she’s afraid she’s too late. She’s down on herself and frustrated, feeling as though she can’t fix things.
I was reminded of her when I thought about my lesson from the sunset tonight. It’s true that she’s dug herself a hole in life. For her to achieve what she dreamed of, she will have to do a lot of work — psychologically and pragmatically. But her biggest enemy isn’t the hole she’s in. Her biggest enemy is that she’s ready to give up — at the age of 25.
I’d love to be where she is, because I didn’t understand nearly as much as she does when I was 25. I wasted a lot more years before I understood where I’d come from and where I wanted to go. She’s ahead of where I was at her age, but all she can see is the frustration of being where she is — not the opportunity she has to be somewhere great in five years.
There are times when we have to give up on dreams. I’ve given up on some of mine, so I understand. Especially when we’re waiting for someone else to make a choice, we sometimes can’t change what another person wants. But it seems as though a little bit more perseverance will frequently get what we really want. We might have to swallow our pride and change our approach, but giving up makes it a certainty that we can’t get what we believe we want.
If I had stayed at the top of that hill just two minutes longer Thursday evening, I would have had a much better picture than the one I got. The one I shot was beautiful and I love it, but I was very close to something even better. I just wasn’t patient enough.
Sometimes we just need to sit on that metaphorical hill a couple more minutes. Change can happen when we least expect it.
Note: Here’s a full-size version of the Thursday night sunset that I did get, suitable for framing, screensavers and projecting onto the sides of large buildings. Or something like that.