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January 26, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, January 26, 2005

First Person: Can you pass the 'watching the sun set' test? First Person: Can <I>you</B></I></strong> pass the 'watching the sun set' test? (January 26, 2005)

by Anna Luskin

My assignment was to watch -- really watch -- the sun set, not just look at a sunset.

I think I failed , not in the sense that I got an F but in the sense that I didn't get the full experience.

During a summer internship at the Weekly, the editor one day asked me and another student intern if we had ever watched a sunset. I was like, "Yeah, when I'm driving!" But he clarified, asking us if we had ever really seen a sun set, like the whole experience -- up in the mountains or at the beach, for two or three hours, until stars come out.

My eyes widened and I was taken aback: "Who has time to do that?" I recall asking. I racked my brain trying to think of a time I was able to just sit and watch a sunset. I couldn't think of one, not one -- at least not since I was old enough to remember. My fellow intern also hadn't. I asked some friends and only one said he had watched a full sunset -- when he was on a cruise with his family. Does that count?

The editor was dumbfounded. He couldn't believe we had never watched a sun set.

So that was my assignment: Go up to Windy Hill off Skyline Boulevard and really experience a sunset, from full daylight to the first star, at least, and write about the challenge.

As I thought about it I began to realize more is involved than just a sunset. Could I actually find time to go up into the mountains and just be? No CD player, no cell phone, no magazines -- just me and the wonders of nature?

So I went Friday after school. I drove up the mountain and parked around 4:30 p.m., a little early because the sun was still too bright to look at. I waited.

Around 5-ish the colors started to change. It was beautiful. The blue turned to a subtle pink. I was like, "Wow, this is going to be cool." But then a lot of cars started to pass by and interrupted my peacefulness. That was the problem throughout the whole experience. When I was lying out on my car, looking up at the array of colors, I started to relax and just be. Then cars would pass and my thoughts jolted back into reality.

And my brain kept running. I remembered how I had fought with my boyfriend that day, and how I had finals coming up. Thoughts kept streaming through my mind. But then I was able to forget about them again. For a few fleeting seconds I was able to enjoy the beauties of nature.

The peacefulness didn't last as long as it should have. I was disappointed.

I felt it should have been easy for me to just forget about everything because I haven't been stressed out this year. For the first time in my life I am generally relaxed. I'm taking manageable classes and have enough free time to do almost whatever I want. Sure, I write for the Paly Voice and occasionally for the Weekly, but I'm not stressed out like I was last year.

For as long as I can remember, school has been stressful for me. Now, for the first time, it's not. This is what I've always wanted, isn't it?

But guess what. I'm having trouble with it. Now I feel like I'm a slackerbecause I have free time. I realize what I'm feeling isn't boredom, ease of mind or pleasure but guilt! I should be doing more.

I'm not just saying this, either. I really do feel guilty. A lot of people around me seem to be doing more than I am. No matter what I do, I always feel people are doing more. I hate myself for not being able to fully enjoy my free time. I mean, I'm young, I should be allowed to have fun. So why can't I just accept that?

That's why I thought that going up to Skyline would be easy. I thought I could relax and enjoy it. But in thinking about things like sunsets, and time, and taking time, I rediscovered something about myself : I turn everything into a more stressful situation than it should be.

I have to have everything on my schedule ahead of time. On Mondays, I plan out my homework schedule for the whole week. If something else comes up, I start to freak out until I write it down on paper and reorganize my week. Once that is done, I can relax again.

I don't know if it's possible for me to just completely "be." I really wish I could take a breather from life and be able to enjoy the full experience of a sunset.

To the people reading this, younger or older, ask yourself: "Am I able to take the time to watch a full sunset?" If not, maybe you should. It's worth a shot. For me, maybe next time ....

Anna Luskin is a senior at Palo Alto High School, planning to study journalism in college. She can be e-mailed at

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