The Sunset at 5:44 pm on a Sunday

by Keira Johannson

photo courtesy of keira johannson

I have always been a lover of sunsets - my camera roll is filled with hundreds of photos of the most warm hues of orange and soft shades of bubble gum pink. There is beauty in the way the sky changes, in how it can evolve from a faint blue to a burnt red all because the sun decided it was time to rest. But the thing about sunsets is that they come and go fairly quickly, like a child finishing a popsicle in the summer heat, gone before they even had the time to truly enjoy it. Life can be like that sometimes, like watching a sunset - so fast, and so sudden, and so easy to look the other way while missing out on something so beautiful. I was in my room the other day, occupied by my phone (probably also occupied by the never-ending to-do list I seem to have all the time) and I ended up missing out on the beginning of a stunning sunset. When I finally did turn my eyes towards the window, I immediately grabbed my phone - because a person in the 21st century does not actually experience a sunset unless they take a photo of it, right? Wrong. I don’t know why my brain does this - why I feel the need to take photos of every little thing I see in a day. Don’t get me wrong, I love photography and one day I will be grateful that I have the photos to look back on, but you know what else I hope to be grateful for? Living in the moment - enjoying the sunset while it is being given to me.

As a nostalgic person living in a fast-paced society, it is very difficult to understand the importance of the present moment. My heart is in the past, with all the memories of an 18-year-old life well lived. My brain is in the future, writing down to-do lists of the life I hope to live one day. The rest of my body? Well, it’s here: in my room at 5:23 pm on a Sunday night writing this essay that I should have finished weeks ago, and if I am being honest, I am still having a hard time. A body does not function without the heart or the brain. How do I write the words I am trying to say if my heart is stuck in the past and my brain in the future? It’s a constant push-and-pull situation, like playing a game of tug-of-war with myself. But the thing about tug-of-war is that sometimes the two sides end up meeting in the middle - not one overpowering the other but instead a state of stability. That’s where I am hoping to be, and where I am 90% of the time now, and where I hope that you, reading this, can be too. I have learned to appreciate balance, and I have grown to understand why it is crucial to me that I spend my time in the present moment.

Let’s talk about high school: the ultimate game of tug-of-war between two teams: “past” and “future”. High school was an interesting time in my life - full of ups and downs, achievements and challenges, and one of the biggest identity crises I have ever experienced. I have written about this stage of my adolescence a lot, it is what is fresh and familiar to me. I think one of my biggest regrets is that in high school, my expectations were never lined up with reality and I was always left disappointed. Whether it was finally being old enough to take my driving test, graduating, or even the process of applying to universities, I was constantly thinking about the future - the “past” team was on their way to losing this game because the “futures” were taking over. When I finally became aware of this problem, it was too late - I was already crossing the stage to receive my diploma and move on from high school. And just as team “future” thought they had it in the bag, team “past” put some more gas in the tank and came pulling at high force.

The week after graduating was overwhelming to say the least. I was happy, sad, and consumed with a sense of nostalgia that I had never felt before. All of a sudden, the future that I had spent the past four years planning felt unknown, distant, and well, scary. And when I looked back at what my high school experience was like, I felt empty. It was a weird state of mind. I kept reflecting on all the times where I held back - where I didn’t socialize or reach out to new people or take advantage of the fun events and opportunities that were happening right before me. While I could say that I regret this, that I regret not living in the moment - in the grand scheme of things, I am grateful that I felt that way. I had to learn from it, change my mind set, and understand that everything that I felt then - everything that I experienced, was to put me in the exact position that I am in now. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Enter: my first few months of university and the game continued. Last September, I packed up my childhood room to embark on the next chapter of my life: living alone. Immediately that very first night, the nostalgia kicked in. I missed my queen size bed, my own bathroom, and my parent’s cooking. I journaled daily for the first couple weeks, reminiscing on a summer that changed my life - a summer that I would then spend many lonely nights wishing I could return to. The journal entries are sad - I missed my family, my friends, and my new boyfriend who I was still in the “honeymoon phase” with. The fall and winter months were consumed with confusing emotions, late night FaceTime calls, and a cloud of seasonal depression overshadowing me. I longed for the days where I was dressing up for themed parties, jumping into freezing cold ocean water, and watching the blue sky fade to pink. What got me through these nostalgia-inducing moments was the idea of a future where things were better - where I was reunited with the people who feel like home and I was doing the things that make me the happiest I’ve ever been. The time that separated those days was haunting - countless assignments reaching their deadlines, pouring down rain that kept me indoors. In my mind, I had nothing better to do than to spend my time glued to a screen. I ended up spending most of my free time on my phone scrolling through lives that I envied, places I’d rather be, and things I could be doing instead. What a waste really, to spend my life comparing myself to others - people who are in completely different stages of life than I am. It is something that I still struggle with. The evolution of the internet has made it so accessible for me to compare my life to those of others. Luckily, I am aware of the power it has over me now, and whenever I find myself surrendering to old habits, my intuition sends a signal to my brain to stop. It doesn’t always work - sometimes I don't want to listen, and I am learning that that is okay too. Being inspired by those around you and setting goals for yourself based on what their lives are like, is okay. Just make sure that those goals are attainable for YOU and that you don’t spend all your time saying you want it, without actually doing anything about it. Again, I am still learning this - we can be students together.

I guess right now you can say that I am in that state of stability, and it is a beautiful place to be. Team “past” and team “future” have decided to take a water break indefinitely. One of my goals this year is to really value the time I have in a day. I would like to establish a routine (more or less structured) that allows me to take control of that never-ending to-do list, prioritize my physical and mental well-being, and enjoy every moment while I am living it. This means that I leave room for adventure and spontaneity, I set goals that are realistic and attainable, and I live each day as if it is my last. It is a cliche, but it is an important cliche. The day you start living like each day is your last is the day you truly begin to live. I wrote that down in my journal in January and those are the words that I aim to live by for the remainder of this year. The truth is, the past will always be there and the future will always be unknown, but every day we are given the opportunity to live, and I am choosing to treat that as a gift. I still ponder over past regrets but I have learned the importance of accepting them, and I have also learned to face the future unknowns without fear of disappointment.

Today is today, and I vow to make today beautiful - and that starts right now: at 5:44 pm where I just witnessed the most beautiful sunset. And while yes, I preach to live from outside of a phone screen, I did still allow myself to take a photo of it - I am a creature of habit nonetheless. I am constantly learning, improving, and understanding this world in new ways each day. I have started to journal daily again and I reflect on everything I did in the day - it is a good alternative to capturing it on my phone. Meditation has also been an important part of my routine as I am able to reflect, clear my mind, and listen to my body. From today onwards, I am choosing to look up more and embrace this life that has been offered to me. It’s been a long time coming, but I think I’m starting to get it now: the past and the future will always be there - buried in the depths of my heart and the pathways of my brain, playing what seems to be an endless game of tug-of-war. But today (and everyday following), I am choosing to let them end in a tie.