There's an acronym that runs through my head, usually during a hurried commute along the lake's edge, when my eyes are fighting between staying on the road, and wandering off to the horizon. It's a mocking reminder for me to appreciate the things I have, and a lament that I can't stop and appreciate them more.
It's usually said with a little sigh, and then perhaps a tired, wry smile. Who am I kidding? It's a fleeting moment, one that's almost hopeless to try to preserve. It's something you have to be there, and enjoy it while it lasts.
When I first got to Winona Lake, I landed my first job — yearbook photographer — while I was standing in line to register for classes. It was a job I took rather seriously (until the second year, when I got distracted by some girl I met on the internet, and eventually married.) I was rarely seen without a camera around my neck.
The first week of classes were done, and I took my Sunday sack supper for a ride through the quiet streets of Winona Lake, until I wound up at Winona Lake park, where several other Gracies had congregated with the same idea.
As the sun crept down over the lake, conversation slowed, and someone — Joelle, I think — shushed everyone. "I want to watch this." I turned around at the picnic table to look out across the lake. "What am I watching here?" I asked, bemused. "The sunset," said someone as if it was obvious. It looked perfectly dull as far as sunsets go. "What, they don't have sunsets where you come from?" I joked, still puzzled. "No," said several voices in unison. Apparently, in the hills of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, you don't get sunsets. The sun disappears behind the hills, and then it's dark. Sunsets were a rare treat for them.
Apparently, out-of-town college students aren't the only ones to be entranced by a Winona Lake sunset. A well known hymn, "Beyond the Sunset," was written not far from where I sat that evening, and a blind man saw it best:
The song "Beyond the Sunset" was born at the dinner table of the Brocks' home one night in 1936. Before dinner, text author Virgil Brock and his composer-wife Blanche watched a very unusual sunset at Winona Lake, Indiana, with a blind guest Horace Burr and his wife, Grace. Burr was Brock's cousin. A large area of the water appeared ablaze with the glory of God, yet there were storm clouds threatening gathered overhead.
Upon return to his home, at dinner, they still talked about the unusual spectacle they had earlier witnessed. What was amazing was what their blind guest excitedly commented, that he had never seen a more beautiful sunset.
The blind Horace's reply was simple and touching: "I see through other people's eyes, and I think I often see more; I see beyond the sunset."
The striking inflection in his blind cousin's voice forcibly deeply moved Brock. He began to write the first few measures of what is now "Beyond the Sunset" at the same time he started singing with his coined words. A spot-on inspiration.
His wife loved it, they went to the piano, and enhanced the first verse. The blind Horace Burr strongly urged that a verse about the storm clouds be added. A third verse was further added. Before dinner ended, all four stanzas had been completed and sang by them.
Words by Virgil P. Brock — Music by Blanche Kerr Brock
© Word Music, Inc
Beyond the sunset, O blissful morning,
When with our Savior heav'n is begun;
Earth's toiling ended, O glorious dawning,
Beyond the sunset when day is done.
Beyond the sunset, no clouds will gather,
No storms will threaten, no fears annoy;
O day of gladness, O day unending,
Beyond the sunset eternal joy!
Beyond the sunset, a hand will guide me
To God the Father whom I adore;
His glorious presence, His words of welcome,
Will be my portion on that fair shore.
Beyond the sunset, O glad reunion,
With our dear loved ones who've gone before;
In that fair homeland we'll know no parting,
Beyond the sunset forever more!
Oddly enough, this wasn't the first time I'd run across this hymn. I first came across it in Germany, while I was looking through an old hymnal for something else entirely. Oh, this is nice, I thought, you can sing this at my funeral. Not so much because it's a nice song (it is) or because it's common at funerals (as I learned later) but because of something I asked God for.
After I die, have my funeral in the late afternoon. Bring a lawn chair. Bring a whole picnic. Don't be formal on my account. Sit out on the grass, or in the sand at the edge of the water, wherever you like, and watch the sunset. I asked God if I could paint it that day. And He said yes. Forget that my body is over there. I'm up here, in the sky, burning down the heavens, whooping my way across the horizon in a roar of oranges and purples. And maybe, if I can manage it, a little bit of green.
It might be spectacular. It might be... just another Winona Lake sunset.