Things seem so much easier when slotted into neat boxes. Simple labels, hierarchies, categories. Minimized until they can’t be dissected any further. Yes or no. This or that. Here or there. We are so besotted with figuring out whether to go left or right, that we don’t always remember that there might be other options.
Something tells me the “in between” is where the magic exists.
The stuff that’s neither black or white, the stuff that’s an enticing shade of evanescent gray, the shade of gray that leaks from the black and seeps into the white. You can never quite tell where the black stops and where the white appears, but somewhere in the middle of all the boundaries, there’s a beautiful area of gray that doesn’t conform to the regimented rules, the rigid expectations, and the delineated structures.
It seems to me that the real stuff of our lives – the core of it all, the exquisite marrow of our very existence – is somewhere in between the black and the white. It belongs within the experiences that straddle neither this nor that, the things that are neither positive nor negative, the ones that don’t quite dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. The real stuff happens in the gray; the events that dance between the lines, the actions that burst along the margins, the reactions that float off the page. And those moments that are caught suspended in time – somewhere in between what seems real and what feels unreal – that’s when we are operating in the gray. It is exciting and inspiring and a real adrenaline rush, but it’s also terrifying and confusing and an endless heart-in-the-mouth sensation. I guess it’s similar to the feeling we have when we have reached the top of the roller-coaster track, that one moment where we have stopped climbing but we haven’t yet plunged, and we are suspended seemingly mid-air, the fear and excitement mingling and mutually engulfing us – that right there, that is us operating in the gray.
We move along life expecting things to happen in an predetermined manner – childhood, school, college, work, marriage, children, more work? It’s black, it’s white, it’s black, it’s white. Then something unexpected happens. Something shifts, something changes, something breaks. The path cracks, a fork appears in the road, and suddenly you see a million different roads ahead. And they are a million shades of gray.
Things were black and white for most of my life. Every piece of the puzzle fit right where it belonged, the pieces sliding into place without resistance, without a second thought. It was only when I was handed new pieces that didn’t quite fit into the puzzle I was already building that I finally sat back and took a second look. The new pieces were not going to fit into my original puzzle, but I was told them to use them anyway. I was then faced with the decision to force the pieces into place, or find myself a different puzzle that would fit the new pieces. Either way, I had to operate in the gray. Black or white didn’t work anymore. What started then as a new adventure eventually tornadoed into mounting confusion, disappointment, terror, heartbreak, sadness, and then eventual resurrection. The path was littered with shades of gray; every twist and turn took me further away from anything black or white and placed copious amounts of gray in my life.
The gray was daunting, but liberating; it was worrisome, but motivating. It was nothing I had ever known before, but it was everything I needed to move on.
Operating in the gray would often leave me in a paralysis of thought and action, aching for the familiar blacks and whites. But it would also spur my feelings into overwhelming motion, enticing me with all the possibilities that exist when I was not desperately squeezing myself and my options into premeditated norms. It taught me that I could be skilled at finance and accounting but also be passionate about psychology and counselling; that I could work effectively with numbers but also play happily with words; that I could be both a student and teacher; that I could be both mother and team player with my sons; that I could be both mentee and mentor to my mother; that I could be both daughter and son to my father; that I could be a co-parent without loving or hating my children’s father; that I could embrace my ethnicity without succumbing to its dogmatic cultural expectations; that I could define myself as a global citizen without locking myself within geographical lines; that I could both be a winner and a loser, experience successes and failures, feel both good and bad.
Operating in the gray isn’t easy. It is challenging, a test of patience and perseverance, and an investigation of our own resilience. To me, it is a constant reminder that I can work hard to stay within my lane, but… I should also be ready to take flight when necessary.
It is only within the gray I can experience a bit of black, a bit of white, and everything in between.