Maybe the World is Black or White


I opened the window and climbed out onto the ledge.

The cobblestone streets were empty.  No bustling bodies carrying plastic bags from Tesco.  No tourists with guidebooks splayed in front of them.  No cigarette smoke and baritone voices floating up from the cafes.  No trams clinking on their tracks, or singsongy Czech rising and falling deliciously in your ear.  Even the fountain at the center of the roundabout, which burbled all day long, had been turned off.  No church bells thundered like a force more than a sound, the vibrations settling onto you.  The funneling of people into the tram station, the mixing of body odors, that avoidance of eyes – all asleep.  The Christmas markets, arranged like a village of cottages under the steeples of thousand year old churches, were shuttered.  Their mulled wines, dangling ornaments, and spit roasted meats packed away and taken home.  The air had that electricity it has before it snows, and as I lit a cigarette, my fingers shook the flame.  I exhaled a thick plume of smoke as snow started falling.  It was like glitter.  It was so fine, I don’t even think it made it to the ground.

All the anticipatory minutes spent in airports, all the flirtations and promises of something new, all of the I-Can’t-Make-It-Through-This… These things together make this indescribably beautiful whole, and these things end up being your life.  And it’s like all the beautiful parts – all the varieties of love; the stained glassed churches in Spain; the set waves glossed with pink on that perfect day when we paddled around the fence of the military base; the bathroom in Hellems with the tree branch that tapped on the window – all of these memories are contained in a wonderbox.  And you open the lid of your wonderbox and look at these things.  These moments recur ad infinitum, and you take these things out and you look at them.  Or at least, I do.

I wrap that hug back around me and place those almost kisses back on my cheek.  Sugar cane and coconut milk slosh around in my belly, as I pick up these huge whole seashells from the tide pool behind our hotel in Hawaii.  These shells were ridiculous – perfectly intact palm-sized cowries and conches scattered throughout pockets of rock, and my sisters and I were freaking out.  Under duress, my Dad confessed later as to how he bought the shells from the souvenir shop and put them in the tide pools before we woke up.

I return to other parts of my life like this, and I don’t think I’m the only one.  I think in their own little way, these dead stories – the closed chapters – keep on living.

And one year from now, everything will be different.  In only one year, so much will happen.  As much as it breaks my heart, my grandmother is finally starting to slow down.  I remember when we walked through Paris together, just the two of us.  And when I think I hate time, I remember that with each minute that passes our souls grow deeper.  With each passing hour, our characters bloom into something more beautiful.  And look at these memories we make.  They’re so beautiful.  I wonder what your memories are.  How they taste.  What they smell like.

I used to run to this park by my apartment in Prague.  I watched every possible felicitation of light in that park.  First, it painted itself in energetic greens and yellows in the summer, and then russets and ambers in the fall.  There were corners to hide the joint smokers, hills for kites, and trees for the men to kiss the women against strongly.

I’ve heard that life isn’t black or white.  But let’s, for the sake of argument, say that it is.  Let’s say that the world is black or white, but not in the way that you normally think of this phrase.

Rather, the world is black when you interpret everything through the lens of the self.  When you are desperate to find the “I” in everything – every person, every situation around you – then the world is black.  Like, they can’t love another because they’re supposed to love you.  Here, time is too short, it goes by too quick, and you feel regret.  The shadows surround you when you’re trying to put yourself at the center of everything.  Food doesn’t taste as good.  Colors aren’t as bright.  The snow on the eaves of the evergreens isn’t as beautiful.  You want to be anybody but who you are.

Now, flip that around, and the world is white.  Glowing bright magic.  Gaudi’s earthy shapes in La Sagrada Familia open up to a bird’s eye view of Barcelona.  It’s the smell of frying bananas under a tin roof in front of Kilimanjaro rising majestically into the sky.  It’s beached boats in Zanzibar that were, just yesterday, far out in the ocean.  You walk out to the ships in the sand, careful to avoid the pinchers of the crabs and the jelly fish that lay stranded, and the sand is gooey, and unlike any you’ve felt before.

If the world is black and white, white is letting everything in your life float by you and appreciating it, but not clinging to it.  It’s exercising control over how and what you think about.  And here’s the thing: staying on the white side of the world isn’t always easy.  It can be really hard.

Because we make mistakes.  People reject our invitations and don’t say sorry.  We lose friends and family members and we have to make hard decisions.  We wonder if we’ll find love again and try to make new friends.

But if we can remember the Jeff Buckley “Hallelujahs.”  How much your friends – past and present – really love you.  The way your favorite love songs don’t suggest love to you, but they do suggest beauty.  Then you’ve righted yourself.  You’re back on the white side of a black and white world.  And I’m old enough to know, that tomorrow it will be July.  A week from now it will be New Year’s.  And if I want to write my wills and live the fullest life I am capable of, I want to live on the right side of the world.

6 thoughts on “Maybe the World is Black or White

  1. This post is so beautiful, poignant, and soulful. Tears came to my eyes without me realizing. Something has changed in you. Beautifully written.

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