As I left dinner Saturday, it was about an hour before sunset. There had been a brief rainstorm, but there was a sudden break in the clouds — and the sunlight danced over the glistening world around me.
In the wet sparkle of water and light, the colors were vivid and everything was beautiful, like a triumphant scene from a movie. The world around me felt gorgeous and perfect. In those moments, I was in love with this life on Earth.
And then my attention shifted to some rude and uncouth people near me. I looked over in the car seat next to me and saw the mail from the IRS which arrived Friday, demanding that I pay another $300. And I thought of walking into the house right after opening the letter — and finding Molly dead.
In that moment, life felt unhappy and solitary. It felt miserable.
As I drove toward home, I found myself trying to resolve the extremes which I had just felt. Is this world a lonely and miserable place that’s our personal hell? Or is it a beautiful and amazing place of ecstasy that’s a personal paradise.
And in a blinding flash, I realized that it’s both — and I realized it can’t be paradise unless we’ve also experienced it as a hell.
There are times when I experience horrible unhappiness and loneliness and despair about the world around me. Those are times when I fear there’s no hope for this mortal world, when I think nothing can make it better — and that the razor-thin veneer of civilization is going to break down at any moment.
I’ve written about my own times of darkness and loneliness and despair — the time I’ve wondered whether I could ever again experience the good things which I long for.
But every time I feel those ways, I’m drawn toward hope — and sometimes even faith — for the very things which I know will change my world. And I know that if I hadn’t experienced those things, I wouldn’t know how to have hope. I wouldn’t know how to experience faith.
Most of all, I couldn’t experience any of these things if I had never known what it felt like to know love and connection with another human being.
For me, the antidote to all of what ails me about the world is found in love and connection. But I also see that knowing what it’s like to live without them — in a horribly fallen world — is what makes those special times so important to me.
I crave the feelings I’ve had before. I crave the feeling that I’m loved and valued. I crave the belief that I am connected to a partner who is one with me.
I crave the privilege of expressing love and appreciation for such a person. I crave the simple ability to do things for her, to express love, concern and caring. I crave having an outlet for the best of what I have to offer.
But I wouldn’t know how much those things mean to me — and how empty life is without them — if I had never lived without them.
This isn’t a new insight. I’m not the first to notice this. I’ve even realized it in the past. But in those few minutes which I found myself swinging from feeling love for the world and feeling despair about the fallen world, I experienced the lesson all over again.
As I thought about this and drove home, the clouds returned and the sky was dark again. It was time for sunset and I pulled over to wait at the top of a hill to see if any beauty appeared. I didn’t think it would, because the skies were dark and gray.
Suddenly, I saw a faint orange glow on the horizon. In another minute, it grew. In three or four minutes, it created a brilliant orange glad that was pink and purple around the edges.
It was just a sudden patch of brilliant color breaking through the gray clouds. And in that moment, the world was beautiful again.
I need gray skies. I need times of fallow solitude. I need to know what it feels like to hurt and to be lonely. That’s how I know how much I need change.
But as I sit here watching a life which is more dark and gray than I want it to be, my eyes are watching the sky. I’m hoping — I’m praying — for the colorful glow of love and connection to return.