In Defense of the Dark Lens

Everyone knows that I’m the dark one in the crowd – the person who can see the black cloud in every silver lining. I’m the one who sits next to people having perfectly normal conversations about Christmas trees or beach picnics and within a few minutes somehow turns the conversation to the real nature of Evil and whether Man is capable of good if left to himself. Death, funerals, mental illness, these are the topics I feel most comfortable with. I was always the little girl who did not smile at strangers, who questioned the motives of seemingly saintly people, who knew that if there was a god, he was simply waiting for us all to screw up so that he could give us a hard time. So yes, it’s true what they say about me – I’m dark.

(I’m also, by the way, incurably optimistic – never give up on relationships, always willing to see in the most awful person the good that lies just below the surface. You have a fight with me and I’m back the next day, totally glad to love and move on. But it’s the dark that people remember.)

So – I’ve been thinking.

Lately – for a prolonged ‘lately’ actually – I’ve been, on and off,  a victim of the most awful peri-menopausal hormonal depression. So, in an attempt to keep my balance through this, I have begun to explain to myself how good life is. That no matter how hard it feels on the inside, it is really, wonderfully good. Even if this doesn’t quite lift the heaviness, it helps to see more clearly. Which means that I have been forcing myself to see the every silver lining I can find. And there are many.

Every morning, as I get into my car for the long drive to work, I remember how good I have it. I used to be superstitious about acknowledging the good stuff because I was watching out for jealous gods, but I’ve given that up these days. Which means that I can see how fabulously fortunate I have been in every area of my life. I am the recipient of countless wonderful gifts, and I feel genuinely grateful for my lot. This is no exaggeration. I am really lucky, and I really see it.

Here’s how that thought goes: I am so lucky. I make enough money to eat really well and to feed my family the best food possible. Unlike so many people. Who don’t have anything to eat. Some of whom work much harder than I do. Some of whom watch their kids cry with hunger every day. Oh yeah. Last year, my daughter was in the hospital for a few days. I cannot tell you how fortunate I felt. Able to give her everything she needed. Doctors. Nurses. Tests. Medications. Whenever. However much. Here’s how that thought goes: I am so fortunate to have all this access to medical resources so that my child can be safe and healthy. Unlike so many people. Who don’t have health insurance. Who can’t give their children any help when they need it. Whose children often suffer or die. The list goes on. It’s amazing how much people are suffering everywhere. If we don’t keep much of our focus on them, who will help them?

What does it mean to look only at the light? To – as I’ve heard so many people say – ‘live in the light’? To abjure the darkness, the shadow? Does it mean that I say, “I’m so fortunate” and stop there? Is that possible? Aren’t ‘luck’ and ‘good fortune’ only relative to the lack thereof? How do I know that I’m lucky without comparing myself to someone not so lucky? Can we feel gratitude for ‘having’ without the understanding of ‘lacking’?

I do not dwell in darkness, nor do I turn my back on it. It is as much a part of good healthy living as is the light. When good things happen – such as the Supreme Court knocking down DOMA today – there is space for a little celebration. A smile, a hurrah, even some tears of relief. But they refused to support the Voting Rights Act just yesterday, potentially causing enormous discrimination and injustice in another quarter. And elsewhere the hope-laden President has been shown to have feet of cement for all his jigging about on the basketball court. After one good ruling amidst many terrible ones, cautious optimism is all I can muster.

How much resignation to the wicked, the evil, the greedy, the amoral, the immoral, the catastrophic, the disastrous, the excruciating, is too much? Human beings have suffered from hunger, disease, drought, fires forever. They have been victims of evil politicians and wicked, greedy bankers since these institutions have existed. To be alive is to know this; to continue living is to accept this with some resignation. But we carry this resignation too far. We make a religion of it. And when somebody protests, we come up with advice such as ‘lighten up’ or ‘you need to not live so much in the darkness’; or we suggest a quick trip to the pharmacy. It is possible that those who eschew the darkness, who insist on focusing on the light, are afraid of what they will see if they turn their heads. And who can blame them?

We are each going to die one day. This is simple fact. What’s important about it is that not one of us really wants to die, not one of us is ready – really accepting of it. Every minute we live is a minute closer to this death, and we can find, if we look, this death in every crevice of our lives. We hate it, we fear it, we put up every barrier possible; yet every poem, every beautiful song, every lovely painting tells of some facet of this death – for if we were immortal even the most beautiful would hold little attraction. It is the knowledge of death that lives in all things that helps us to live creatively, to take an avid interest, to know how much we have to lose. It is the blindness that accompanies my forays into the darkness that helps me to appreciate so much the brightness of the candle’s flame. Knowing this, speaking this, bringing it to the table – this is not pessimism or melancholia. It is my way of completely addressing all that life has to offer. This human life is a tremendous adventure, and I revel in it. All of it. I mourn the pain of those who suffer as I taste the late June sunshine. I can do this easily, in the same breath, in the same moment. To really taste the sunshine, I must also mourn the suffering. This is how it is.

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