Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dark and light

I read an article by a Colombian artist who combined music (Chopin, Tchaikovsky, etc.) with her art, painting pictures that were evoked by the music. She recently did a series of 24 paintings inspired by 24 of Chopin's pieces that were a series of light and dark, twelve of each. What surprised (and hurt) her was that people like the light paintings but didn't like the dark paintings -- just like in relationships.

When in full hormonal haze of beginning love, whether it is with a potential lover or a friend, we bask in the light, the good things about the person, ignoring or finding excuses for the darkness, and it's how we conduct every relationship. Wanting to see only the good is probably what causes most of our neuroses because no one is all good. Everyone has a dark side, a shadow self (as one old friend called it), that we either hide from the world or, more often, from ourselves.

The light doesn't last forever and as it goes we become more and more disenchanted with the person we claimed to love and stand by forever until more emotional and relationship fires break out than we can ignore or stamp out, and then things end. Everything we liked about the person is now overshadowed by the darkness, by the faults and flaws that we couldn't get past. Oftentimes, it is a single flaw or a single dark moment that we use as an excuse to destroy a relationship forever, and that includes friends. We can't get through the darkness and back into the light so we dwell in the darkness, and we're all guilty to one extent or another.

About the only relationship that survives the darkness is family because we are bound to them from birth until death. We disagree and even hate one another, but when the chips are down we close ranks because they are family. It's too bad we can't do the same for lovers, spouses and friends.

There have been times that friends have bragged they don't mind of their friends disagree with them (usually a best friend). It's just a disagreement and won't break the relationship's back, but like a rope constantly wearing away against a rock or nail the relationship invariably breaks. We say we can only take so much and we seldom think of the many times our friends have put up with our faults and flaws and stuck by us because we were looking for a reason to walk away -- even run away.

I'm as guilty as anyone else. I've walked away from people I cared about because I thought it was the right thing to do to minimize the damage, but it was damage to myself and not to the other person I worried about. And I've had close friends walk away from me for what I still think are stupid and silly reasons. In spite of how some of my family have treated me, I still talk to them and care about them, even when I have vowed many times that it would be the last time I ever spoke to them or saw them. I always come back because they're family. They're an integral part of who I am and where I come from.

No one can live happily or at all without a past to anchor us to reality. Even amnesiacs who can't recognize themselves or their friends and family search endlessly for some scrap of memory that will link them to the past and to how they gained the knowledge that has stayed with them about how to drive a car or cook a meal or do their job. It's funny how the mind works to protect us from danger and pain. It's not so funny how we protect ourselves -- our darker shadow selves -- by pretending all is sweetness and light and there's nothing wrong. It's not healthy and it's not balanced. We all need balance in our lives.

The hardest thing in the world is to love someone you know isn't perfect and has some very dark aspects to their natures that are inextricable from the light parts, but that is what true love is all about -- accepting someone warts and all. To love someone who has done their best to trash your personal and/or professional life is true love and true friendship and so few of us stick around after the first hard test. No wonder this world is so mixed up and in so much pain. We can't face the darkness. We want only light.

In the northernmost reaches of the planet near the poles, there are months when there is only light and months when there is nothing but darkness, and people go mad, become depressed, commit suicide and murder, and languish for lack of balance. We accept the turning of the day from light to dark and back again because it is natural. We even accept, although with less tolerance, the times of the year when the light holds sway and then slowly gives up its dominion until the dark holds dominion, but we cannot accept it in the people we profess to love and care about. We would do well to take a good look at the people we have cast aside for petty reasons and see whose darkness it was we couldn't tolerate. It is the first step towards balance and acceptance of the shadow within us all.