"Have You Ever Seen The Sunset?"
By Christopher Goss
"So would it be impolite to ask more about you?"
"Yes," he said, a serene expression on his face. "We do not ask each other to reveal information about one another. We find out about each other through the actions one makes. Words are easily warped by the minds of men. However, by examining actions, it's far easier to discern the character of a person."
He pulled the twig he'd been chewing from between his lips and tossed it aside. The only sound for awhile after was the regular crunch of Autumn leaves. The world had taken on a golden brown hue, a gentle breeze caressing my cheek.
"Memories are what you might call 'sacred.' " The man was looking at the golden sky as he spoke. "Memories are more indicative of who a person is than any word could hope to replicate. Words are shallow and easily constructed. But there is no control over memories. They form whether you want them to or not. An insignificant moment can become the single most bright spot in your life."
That was the most I'd heard the man say since I arrived at this place. This "place" as I called it. There really isn't a word for it. There are a bunch of people who mill about. They all seem to be incoherent, not even aware of the reality all around them, and yet are still very much able to respond to a question. They just choose not to answer. Questions were common. Answers were rare. That was the way of life: Questions, questions, questions. The answers could only be divined by looking within.
My first assumption was that it was a load of hogwash, but I slowly began to see the serenity of the life these people led. They were so close to the center of society, and yet so far removed from reality that it made my head turn.
"If the words of men are fallible, aren't the memories of men also fallible?" I questioned aloud. "Memories are the result of the experience of the individual rather than the group; allowing variation in how individuals view a commonly shared experience."
Again my observation was greeted with silence by the man. It was not an attempt to be rude. He merely wanted me to come to my own conclusion. At times it was infuriating; other times infatuating. But I had gotten used to this strange way of life after a month of living here.
And while I stewed in my collective thoughts and memories, we proceeded down a cobblestone walkway that wound through a forest. It was very quiet here despite the lateness of the afternoon. The man seemed to have no clear destination. No motive for walking. No reason for being out here, and yet here he was. He might not even be walking through a forest; but walking through the fields of Heaven.
His hazel eyes were looking forward, but he might have been seeing something a thousand miles away. His mouth was closed. His breathing was regular. He was at peace amongst the trees that seemed to form an arch over the cobblestone path.
"Have you ever seen the sunset?"
A ludicrous question; of course I've seen the sunset, I thought.
"No, you misunderstand," the man said, patiently. "Have you ever seen the sunset?"
Another ridiculous statement. If one visualizes the sunset, then one has in fact seen it. "Yes, I have. I used to sit on my porch with my pappy and we'd smoke a bowl and watch the sunset." I felt a lump in the back of my throat. I hadn't thought of my father in a long time.
The man surprised me by responding.
"Then you have not seen the sunset," he said, calmly. "Remember, you said yourself that the memories of men are fallible. What one experiences is unique to the individual. You claim your memory was about visualizing the sunset, but that is an after thought. Your real focus on the memory is one of the few moments you had with your father. The setting could have been anywhere, but the memory would be the same at the core."
"I disagree. A memory is the result of a collaboration of things: location, whom you're with, state of mind, and plenty of other factors. The location is not irrelevant to the memory, but an important detail."
His question confused me. This was a stupid debate. And yet I was finally getting something besides empty questions, so I ran with it. I was quite enthralled. For the first time since arriving I was communicating with a human being. We walked in silence for awhile as I tried to come up with an answer to this question. Finally, I spoke.
"The location is vital. When I shared my memory with you, I told you we were sitting on the steps. My grandfather built those steps with his own hands, the whole house for a matter of fact! And he chose to put the house on a hill so seeing the sunset was quite easy. The sun would sink behind the mountains like a weary eye that had seen so much, the burden made it sink."
Again, he responded.
"And someone on a hill in another location could have the same locational details that you just provided. Location is not unique. What makes a memory unique is the fabric of many memories intertwining together to form a unique memory that strikes a chord within our hearts. Your memories of sitting on the porch with your father are held dear to you because it was a rare occurrence for you to spend any time with him. Had you seen your father frequently, it would simply be another insignificant moment in time."
I finally understood what the man was getting at, but I didn't care. His opinion was wrong.
"So what you're telling me is that my fond memories of my father are only fond because of the rarity of us sitting on the porch watching the sunset?"
"Precisely. It is also why you have not seen the sunset. The location is irrelevant to you. What is important to you is who you experienced the memory with, and that has given it a far deeper meaning. Someone else sitting on their porch may not be thinking about how lucky it is they get to sit on the porch and watch the sunset with their father, but the location is still the same. Insignificant."
I understood what he meant, and I had to admit that there was some truth to what he said. But I remained stubborn. I didn't want to accept the belief that location was irrelevant simply because somewhere someone else could be in a similar setting.
We walked together in silence for some time afterward until we came to a small table with a pair of benches on either side. Sitting on the table was what appeared to be a hunk of wood with a bunch of intersecting lines upon it. Two bowls filled with black and white stones also sat beside the board. A Go board.
"We will play a game and observe the sunset together. But this time, you will see the sunset. You have no emotional ties with me. And so our being together will not be remembered fondly."
He seated himself and looked up at me.
By sitting across from him, I would be able to see the sun. The table was set on a small hill and was elevated higher than even the trees. One could feel like a God sitting here. I took my seat across from him and bowed my head slightly. Go was a ritualistic game here. It was not a war as some commonly perceived it to be. It was a negotiation. That was how they taught me to think of it.
And it was also the reason why I was here to begin with. This would be the beginning of my training to become a professional Go player. Many years later I would look back at this moment and realize it was the beginning of wisdom.
I like salad.