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I didn’t like dusk as a child, or even as a young adult. It signaled the end of all things fun, being called in from play, the closeness of the school day, and the pressures of homework. Even the most beautiful sunset couldn’t convince me to love dusk. It was like a little death that made my stomach sink, even if it was the middle of summer vacation.
I didn’t have a very positive relationship with dawn, either. Waking up in the dark was never a joyful experience, and I think I held too tightly to my grouchiness to be able to acknowledge the beauty of a new day.
Until Sri Lanka.
My junior year abroad was blessed with the coming together of my best high school friends all in one place: Paris. While most juniors abroad in Europe went skiing for Christmas, we were all invited to do something spectacular, something none of us had ever experienced. Our friend Stephen’s parents invited us to visit them in Sri Lanka. I called home nervously to see if extra funds could be wired to make this exotic dream trip a reality. I had always wanted to go to that part of the world. Thanks to my beloved dad’s generosity, it was yet another dream come true.
So off we went, landing en masse at Colombo airport. A large van awaited our college contingency as well as some extended family. We piled in, and were whisked off to an exquisite home in the center of Colombo.
It wasn’t just any house. It was the first time I had ever been in Asia, so I was entering my first home there, and it was the first of its kind I had seen. The home was the work of the owners’ friend, famed Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. A large courtyard was the bejeweled center of the home. All the rooms were off that courtyard, each appointed in luxurious style, our hosts having been stationed in countries all over this region for many years.
When I think of a perfect house, it is the one I dream of to this day. It seemed to call equally for exalted colorful celebrations and peaceful monochromatic relaxation. And it had plenty of breathing room, as it was largely open to accommodate the monsoon rains that would wash through it.
We were led through the home, each of us in awe at the glorious art, furniture, and even foliage from the lush Sri Lankan landscape in its love-filled rooms. Even the plants wanted to be part of its exquisite design.
“Let me lend an interesting angle here,” a vine seemed to say.
We were beckoned to settle down into a living area, where our most divine hostess had decorated a potted tree by hanging colorful Christmas stockings of Sri Lankan cloth designed by another famous local treasure, artist Barbara Sansoni. We each had our name written carefully at the top of one, so we all felt special. In that moment, I think we all dropped any sense of tiny sorrow for missing a family Christmas. We were “home” for the holidays in a very special place, thanks to all the Santas in our lives, and our beloved hosts.
I have traveled a lot in my life, but I remember more details from this trip than perhaps any other because of the love and care that our hosts provided. We visited golden Buddhist temples and colorful Hindu temples. We heard sounds I had never heard before: bells and other mysterious instruments, chanting, exotic birds, monkeys. I smelled frangipani for the first time. I think its scent wove itself gently into my soul that day. It’s as if I can smell it as I write this. We saw mountains covered with tea, we traveled by train through villages, peering accidentally into people’s private lives as if the engine seemed to be freshly cutting its way through the jungle for the very first time so they weren’t even aware of our trespass.
We visited most of Sri Lanka’s greatest treasures. On New Year’s Eve, we climbed what I would consider one of its crown jewels: Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak). We sipped champagne at its base before we began our trek to the 7359 foot summit. So meticulously planned, we hiked the tiny stairs up, up, up and arrived high above the clouds just as the sun rose. It was nearly silent, save for the traditional thrice ringing of the peak’s giant bell, honoring Buddha’s presence at the location of what was said to be his footprint.
That dawn was one of the most magnificent moments of my life. So high above the clouds, as far as the eye could see, we watched the lavender fluffy carpet become pink, the pink turn to peach, transforming to gold, and then white. It was bigger than all of us. We were together, and yet we were each alone with the holiness of the moment.
Some things are very worth getting up in the dark for, even hiking, sweating, and struggling in the dark, because the light that is about to come will light up your heart forever. And sometimes even the thing that feels like it will always darken your heart will light up with a flame that can never again be extinguished.
While Sri Pada changed my relationship with dawn, Taprobane Island transformed my relationship with dusk.
There are two ways to get to Taprobane: Walk in low tide or boat in high tide. Atop the tiny island is one single house. At its center is the dining room, which seems to beg for festive gatherings.
“Come here, to the heart of the house,” its walls seemed to say.
From that center emanated all the other rooms. I don’t remember many walls, except those separating the rooms. Certainly, there were more than I remember, but it was yet another spectacular Sri Lankan open design — this one inviting in the sea air and sound of nearby lapping waves. You felt safe, with just the right amount of protection, and just the right amount of freedom to jump into the frolicking surrounding sea.
We were mostly in the water, as I remember. It was here, playing in those delicious waters, that we discovered “purple time,” when the sky literally turned purple and the bats would make their joyful, chirping trek to their evening feeding ground. The bats’ own excitement for purple time was contagious. I looked forward to it every night. I wanted it to be dusk. It wasn’t the end of something, it was the beginning of magic.
Whether the light is dimming or brightening, allowing it to bump up against our hearts and affect us in a way that softens or opens us is a good thing. I thank Sri Lanka for its light, and how it transformed me forever in more ways than I can count.
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