Two days ago, my boyfriend swerved suddenly while driving on the freeway. My head snapped to the right to assess what had just happened. I saw other cars merging away from a black Escalade as the driver rested his elbow on the open window, pointing and lifting. I could have sworn I saw his lips pucker, whispering “pop, pop, pop.”
As this stranger flew up the off-ramp, innocent fingers contorted into pure malice, I was afraid. While the distance between me and the raging man grew, he followed me. Why was he so angry? Would he actually hurt someone or was he just acting tough?
Considering the terror that filled my body seeing a hand fashioned into a make-believe pistol, I can’t begin to fathom what it must be like living somewhere where guns–real guns, the kind that kill–are a daily reality. I feel deeply grateful to have always lived in relatively safe neighborhoods and to have never been faced with any true danger. Yet, it breaks my heart to think that there are many who face such threats to their very survival on a daily basis.
Yesterday, a black crow perched on the ledge outside my second story office building. The forlorn bird pecked at the glass, his tiny breath creating foggy patches on the massive window. He chirped and cried out as as he hopped back and forth along the ledge for several minutes, freeway traffic blaring behind him.
He peered at me with beady eyes and an open beak, as if begging for help. Was he hungry, thirsty or cold? Had the construction workers a few hundred feet away destroyed his home? I wished I could have cracked open the huge sheet of glass, held him to my chest and satisfied whatever need was weighing him down.
I thought of all the nature documentaries I’d seen on the cleverness of ravens. Birds are intelligent creatures, with some even capable of using tools. These modern feathered dinosaurs have called this place home for millennia. As humans erect glass towers and speeding tracks of weaponry, perhaps these small animals cannot adapt quickly enough. And perhaps we are not paying attention to their cries for help.
Today, I reviewed my 2018 PET scan with my doctor. Unnatural black shapes flopped haphazardly atop a grey canvas. “Why did you cancel your oncologist appointment?” she demanded, eyes welling up with fear. I recently stumbled into my father-in-law’s poker night, where 30 retired doctors prodded my legs and concurred that the Milk Duds had either migrated for the winter or completely dissipated. I’m not paying $100 for the oncologist to parrot back that fact.
My doctors are scared, though not necessarily of my mysterious ailment. “What’s going on with my patient?” often seems secondary to, “How can I avoid a lawsuit?” After countless tests, dozens of specialists and many extraneous expenses, it’s becoming incredibly clear: my health is my responsibility, I am my sole advocate and the systematic design of traditional medicine impedes thoughtful care.
If I’m to wash myself clean of the infectious black spots burrowing into crevices of my body, I need to continue to take charge and discern what is working. At this stage, my money is on integrative medicine and intentional acts of self-care. While the monetary costs are high, the value of spending 90 minutes with a caring physician cannot be quantified. Though loving-kindness mediation, journaling and small bouquets of color often feel self-indulgent, the joy that they bring me is invaluable.
Black is not a conglomeration of all the colors, as seemed so obvious to my five-year-old self as I smeared finger paint across bright white printer paper. Rather, the darkest color is the result of the complete absorption of visible light. It is a color with a single shade, a color without hue. Black is often use symbolically to represent sadness, fear, evil and the unknown.
Lately, I’ve been revisiting favorite poems and one particular line has deeply resonated. Robert Frost describes the woods as “lovely, dark, and deep.” The contrast is somehow both jarring and comforting. In a world of complexity, contradiction and confusion, perhaps blackness is simply a story we tell ourselves–a story of lack and of loneliness, a story that fails to recognize the value of absence.
The darkness in our lives inevitably draws attention to light. Stars shine most brightly on the blackest of nights and hardships serve to highlight life’s blessings, however small. When we are alone, we can either choose to wallow in self-pity or bring attention to the moments in which we have felt loved. When we feel ill, can focus on how our body is failing us or we can feel gratitude for simply being alive.
The blackness in our lives–the rage, suffering, uncertainty and depression–doesn’t need to be a source of strife or a symbol of evilness. What if, instead, we viewed the absence of color is a blank canvas, an opportunity to scratch away at the surface to reveal precisely the future we desire?