There is an awful lot of black and white thinking when it comes to suffering, the stages of grief, bereavement and more generalised sadness. It is as if, in some people’s minds, there are sharp distinctions between the confusing multiplicity of human emotions, and each stage should be traversed in its proper order and at a specific time.
To me, the subtlety, the individual nature of woe and the personality and life story of the grieving human make for a canvas which is far more pointillist, impressionistic, even blurred, than some might wish to believe. There are no black outlines; the centre is not blinding white or a neat and recognisable shape of primary colour. Instead, green merges with blue (from which, of course, it originally derived – at least in part) and orange snuggles into black.
This weekend, I have been feeling sad. There are many reasons. Part of it is the stage of the virus I have reached – a general draining of joie de vivre, a heaviness of limbs, a catarrhal blockage of sinuses and a disinclination to do much (which I am fighting). Part of it is, I suspect, the stage I am approaching in my weeping and healing, pain and release, aftermath of 2016’s vicissitudes. Part of it is, no doubt, the shock of starting back as a teacher after so long – and the germs picked up as a result of my unready immune system.
But a large slice of the unhappiness pie comes from the parts of my life I do not share on this blog. I am open and honest about my experiences and emotions; I do not lie per se – but there are omissions; there are areas I choose not to visit in public – and other areas which return, from time to time, for a reason and prompted by external stimuli.
I think we are all aware of the power of triggers in our lives – but perhaps we forget how peculiar, almost unconnected, they can be. We assume that time heals (which it does – to some extent) and that the immediacy of a traumatic event will fade eventually.
But, given the unmapped nature of so much of the mind, given our poor understanding of cerebral processes and the true link between body and mind, I am increasingly sure that we are, as often as not, blundering blind in the dark and making assumptions, parroting populist wisdom, about matters as arcane and confusing as the internet would be to our cave-person forebears!
What law is it – do tell me! – that states, unequivocally, that we should get through, and out of, the tunnel of trauma in a certain time scale (and often in order to please someone else)? What process it is that dictates that love is white and hatred black – and never the twain shall meet? What greater mind is so absolutely rock-solid certain of being right that no blurring of the edges, no ambiguity, no human frailty, is allowed?
I would love to be that sure, that black-and-white, that disdainful of life’s essential blurring – and I would hate it too! Because, surely, it is our blurring, our human uncertainty, our willingness to think outside the box, our ability to admit we might be mistaken that fosters empathy, compassion, true humanity and growth (however excruciating). It is our openness to a wide range of possibilities that makes us creative; that stops us from judging others through the narrow prism of a strict set of rules; that allows us to see that grief is infinite in its range, its scope, its duration, that it can ebb and flow, drift off for years and then return as sharp and devastating as ever; that loving someone dearly does not prevent the flashes of loathing – and that moving on physically cannot stop the wheel of necessary sadness, and the feelings of intense loss for that which is gone, from turning and cutting.
An adamantine mind is not automatically a sign of strength; it can reveal a worrying rigidity and inability to back down. A blurred mind does not necessarily indicate inherent weakness; it could equally well show flexibility and willingness to compromise.
I have never been comfortable with thinking in black and white, have always preferred the mysterious, and oddly comforting, blurred and misty realms of the in-between shades: The varieties of colour, the greys.
I have long been sucked into the psycho-babble nonsense that implies a mind like mine is synonymous with weakness – and, for all I know, equates to the most egregious moral turpitude!
It isn’t – and it doesn’t!