It hung in the sky like a giant fireball, I thought to myself. Not that there was anyone to hear me if I had said it out loud; I was two hours into the two hour and fifteen minute trip from New York City to Wilmington. I had started in the city around 6 in the evening, relieved to finally get my car out of a place that was actively hostile to its presence.
The drive is basically a straight shot, heading south, the sun very definitively on my right as I zoomed through the rather pointless state of New Jersey. I say pointless not to dismiss its many contributions to American history — whatever they may be — but rather because it’s the only landmass between my home and my school, and usually I want to be at one or the other.
But, so, the fireball. Near the end of New Jersey you get off the Garden State Parkway and head onto a different road, US-322, which heads towards the Commodore Barry Bridge. The bridge, in turn, takes you from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, spitting you out right on I-95 about ten minutes from my house. And in order to do this, US-322 points west, right towards where a setting sun would be.
It had been a clear, hot day along the East Coast, the only clouds wisps of haze that seemed to be many miles above the land. As I began to cross the bridge, I looked out at the horizon, where the sunset was beginning.
The sun was a pure and radiating orange, transforming the sky around it with shades of pink and blue and purple, the sort of color you could replicate in photoshop but it wouldn’t feel real, somehow, you just have to see it and know what sort of a day it had been and how this glorious, beautiful moment could have come to pass. Maybe now you just created some mental image of the moment I’ve just described; rest assured that you are still far from the spectacular truth.
And that’s when my internal monologue, which had been keeping me entertained throughout this solo adventure, decided to try to describe it. People have been staring at sunsets for as long as there have been people. Generations upon generations of writers have been trying to describe the great sunsets of their time; how could I, in one simile, even hope to convey what I saw over the Commodore Barry Bridge?
It hung in the sky like a giant fireball, I thought to myself, and it wasn’t until I stared at the sunset for a few more seconds until I realized what a banal and pointless simile I had constructed. For one, the sun is literally a giant fireball, so I’m not sure what another person could gain from describing it as what it is. But, perhaps more importantly, calling the sun “a giant fireball” is a woefully inadequate way to describe the beauty and complexity of the moment. Some sights need more than a few words, or a few dozen, or a few thousand. Some moments you cling tightly to because they’re yours, and no language in the world can fully describe them.