Life Is a Dab of Gray, Old Chum                                                                 Sun, 24th August, 2014

I've finally mustered the courage to state clearly and unequivocally the rule that will govern my life from here on out: There's no such thing as black and white.

I remember in my college days (gulp, 25 years ago) learning about Aristotle's ideal forms. (Or maybe it was Socrates - another gray area in my mind.) I was intrigued by the idea that a circle, in its ideal, is perfect, but that in actual real life there is no such thing as a perfect circle. Even with precision drafting tools, if you zoom in on the pencil line, it's a blurry abstraction.

I've discovered that life's like that too, whenever I truly look at something close up. Throughout human existence, apparently, we seem to be compelled to put things into distinct boxes, sorting classifications of mineral, flora and fauna—and most of all—each other. We love creating opposites: black and white, sun and moon, male and female, gay and straight, master and servant, good and evil, rich and poor, fact and fiction, good guys and bad guys, reason and superstition.

I reject the duality implied in these human constructs. Take sunlight and moonlight for example: Moonlight is actually reflected sunlight happening on the other side of the planet. And is dawn or sunset daytime or nighttime? Even something as seemingly fundamental as male and female breaks down when you understand the independent fluid spectrums of sexuality and gender identity.

Apparently mother nature likes gray areas, too: The richest, most diverse ecosystems occur where two different environments converge—giant redwoods, for example, grow in soil but get 40 percent of their yearly water supply from fog created by the nearby Pacific Ocean.

Some among the religious left, including those within the American Unitarian-Universalist tradition, seem to want to draw a distinction between reason and spirituality. If reason is our precept then there is no room for God talk. I feel no such need for bright lines. I can both understand the scientific symbiosis between redwood and ocean and at the same time stand in awe and wonder at the foot of this marvelous creation, commune with it and offer a prayer to the great spirit that connects us.

My spirituality is strengthened by scientific knowledge, such as the fact that a tall, ebony-skinned African and a diminutive, fair-skinned East Asian are still 99.9% genetically identical. For me this means there is an intangible sense of spiritual connection—fellow feeling—between people, and even among people, plants and animals. Is it carbon speaking to carbon, or some ineffable spirit seeking its lost soul mate, seeking to reunite sparks of flame scattered when the world was created?

Both ideas stirred together make for the most beautiful and delicate interplay of shades of gray. And most of all, they remind us that we must never stop paying attention and reassessing the old lines that others have attempted to draw upon our consciousness. Gray—it's the new black and white.
Photo courtesy of Bill Drendel