I have always believed that to understand light, we must have darkness. Okay, not true. Since I’ve experienced dark and angry sides of life, I’ve believed this. Before that, optimism ruled my day and I flitted forth, unencumbered by roadblocks, hap and circumstance. But then came the rub. And with it, an appreciation for what I had. Without the stumble, I could not understand the strength, the will, the determination, the joy of accomplishment. There is no yang without yin (though we could argue the bliss of living in yang).
Our Thanksgiving weekend gave me the opportunity to ponder this theory anew. There’s nothing like a holiday with family to test our beliefs and put our life choices through a sieve of justification, judgment and criticism.
I’ve decided our life experiences often lead us to unique destinations, unfathomable to others but in perfect sync for the one who goes there. Though we’ve parked on opposing sides of religious and political conclusions, my family has mostly given each other space to be grown ups, each with our own thoughts. It’s not that we “never talk politics or religion,” but that, because we love and respect each other, we can respect each other’s thought processes and choices—even when we don’t understand. We’ve ended conversations with, “I sort of see how you have come to your conclusion.”
This year, it was different. My mother introduced a new element to the family—one who, apparently, leans toward passion to a fault and a tendency to be right—about everything. Without going into detail, I’ll say that for three days, I felt an undercurrent of reverse judgment, a feeling that was new for me. This person repeatedly made points to insinuate how he expected me to react to things he said, before he said them. I felt cornered and, instead of unfolding in the process of discovery, I felt labeled and boxed. And it became clear that the kinds of people who live in my kind of box are, in his mind, a study in ineptitude, ignorance and mistaken conclusions.
For awhile, everyone played dress-up. The conversation stayed safe and neutral. But people who need to be right can’t be expected to hold it together for extended periods. Blame it on the wine, the wind down, the weather or a deceiving sense of familiarity, but in time, this person managed to specifically insult my parenting (does introducing a sex toy at the table with my high school boys flanking me constitute an overstepped boundary and insult to my parenting choices? Did I mention the lecture about “lightening up” about sex?), my high school son’s future choices and best educational opportunity (the Air Force Academy followed by a career as an officer in the Air Force) and my husband’s service to our country (where he went there and did that—for every citizen in our great nation).
The visit didn’t end well. There’s been damage done.
But here is where the light versus darkness theme returns. I discovered, or rediscovered, how strongly I believe in something as I tried to make sense of his accusations. It surprised me to realize just how upset his caricatures of institutions I hold dear made me. Frankly, I’d forgotten. And I’ve been lazy in expressing my thankfulness and gratitude to the men and women who serve our country. Our service people have essentially said to each of us, “I am willing to die for you.” We are Americans sharing a cherished ground, and that is enough for them.
My point here isn’t to argue my view but to say that the insults and disrespect toward our beliefs incited me to action. Darkness begat light. I’ve been looking for a place to be generous, a place I can believe in and feel compelled to support. These holiday arguments clarified my direction. Understanding the opposition gives me more determination to stand with those who, in my opinion, are under appreciated or simply forgotten.
In a yang world, we would all be harmonious and humanitarian. But we are not in a yang world. My experience reminded me that though yin can be ugly, smelly and unkind, it has its place. With ugliness comes a desire for beauty. Rank odors beg for fragrant bouquets. And unkindness births protective spirits. All is not lost simply because we often live where skies are gray.
I hope that you, too, find passion in the darkness and, whether we agree or not, that you pursue what you believe. Does it matter that goodness can come from bad if, in the end, goodness is advanced?