How do we behave when something is out of our control? When we face the possibility (and, let’s be honest, the eventual certainty) of an unpleasant loss? When we’re surrounded by unknowns and unanswerable questions?
Throughout much of my adolescence and early-adulthood, I swam through gray areas willingly and with ease, certain I’d have the answers eventually, certain that, with time, I’d be able to separate black from white, and have everything organized according to some system or explanation that made sense to me, that I could live with.
Something that I’ve learned in not-early-adulthood is that this is simply not possible. Much of life is endlessly uncertain, not categorizable, and full of unknowns. I like to know things, to be able to explain things, to understand how things work so I can foresee how they might end up or turn out. I like to put things in their places and maintain some sort of order in my external environment. These preferences are acceptable, even an advantage, in many professional situations. They aid in my ability to progress as a teacher and an artist/writer (of sorts). But–they severely hinder my progress as a human who, like everyone else, is bound to the unspoken rules of existence: that so much lies beyond our control, that so much can never be known, explained, or put into a jar with a color coded label.
What is so funny is that, in many ways, I am very comfortable with unknowns, with mystery, with uncertainty–it makes life more beautiful and interesting, and infinite, really. There is no end to what we can learn, understand, love, or do. However, when faced with loss, my ultimate and life-long nemesis, I lose nearly all ability to appreciate mystery, to revel in the grey, the spirit of the unknown and unpredictable. If I am going to really do something or love someone, I want total assurance beforehand that I won’t have to lose this thing or this person. I have very little trust in my ability to cope with profound loss. This is why, at age 8, I became obsessed with death, and did everything a small child could do to not only understand what death meant, but also try and prevent the pre-mature deaths of my parents and sisters.
Of course, in growing up, I learned that there is very little (perhaps nothing) I can do to manipulate someone else’s lifespan, even my own. I also learned that death is not the only way to permanently lose someone or something. There are myriad other ways. In times of insecurity and uncertainty I’ve made feeble and rather wasteful attempts at disproving this. I so badly wanted (want?) to believe that I have a power that no one else does: that I get to prevent loss, that I get to choose who and what I lose, and when.
Something I am learning (at a slow and segmented rate) is that, again, this is simply not possible. The harder I try to fight against the rules of existence, the more suffocating they feel, the more I feel that I have to break free from them. This means that I try harder and harder to separate black from white, to predict, to control, to understand the not-understandable, to penetrate the beauty and mystery of life with my obsessive psyche, determined to dissect and label it all. What for? For comfort, for security, for preventing the worst kinds of surprises. The harder I work at doing all of this, the farther from reality (and deeper into my own mind) I get. This means I’m not really appreciating life, or the beauty of existence, much at all. I’m not here–I’m in a world I’ve created on my own where I have fooled myself into believing that I have control.
It’s laughable, really. And I try to laugh at it. It’s always been my tendency to take things too seriously, especially things I care about. But the only way out of this situation is acceptance, and surrender–not more fighting. I, like everyone else and every one of you, am bound to my humanness, to the sometimes unpleasant rules of existence. I do not get to live outside of them. I’ll never be able to relax, or be truly content, until I am willing to accept this. The first step towards acceptance, I think, lies in my ability to step into what someone told me they call the “grown-up grey”. This grown-up grey is that place of knowing that there will always be questions we can’t answer, things we can’t predict or prevent, outcomes we’ll never know, and people we have to lose. I don’t like to be too candid on this site, but I will say that I hope to someday write more candidly and specifically about what all of this surrounds. If I do, I’ll be sure to share it.
Until then, I’m standing at the edge of this pool–all of this beautiful, cool grey. I’ve been in it all of my life (like everyone else), but blindly, foolishly, always attempting to separate much of it into two pools. As I submerge myself this time, I want to do it more mindfully. I want to appreciate the shades of grey, the questions I can’t answer, the uncertainty we all face, and the reality that I get to love some people so much that I am rendered terrified at the idea of losing them. There are much worse things (than being afraid of loss), after all.
(The painting at the top is by the ever-inspiring Francisco Clemente)