“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
“I’m sorry, Gemma. But we can’t live in the light all of the time. You have to take whatever light you can hold into the dark with you.” Libba Bray, A Great and Terrible Beauty
Last weekend I stayed at an off the grid hot springs establishment where the bathrooms were labeled “yin” and “yang”. I’m used to figuring out that I’m supposed to head for doors marked “Damas” or “Cowgirls” etc., but this was a nice spin on the concept. It turns out that sometimes a trip to the toilet in a beautiful and quirky location is a good opportunity to consider the relationship between the opposing sides of life.
Wikipedia gives us this: In Chinese philosophy yin and yang (also yin-yang or yin yang, yīnyáng “dark—bright”) describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Sometimes people talk about the two sides as male and female, fire and water, passive and active, moon and sun, etc. The symbol has, in the form of a dot, a little bit of the opposite color, reminding us that each side contains a bit of the other element.
The experience of expecting or having a baby and then losing that baby tends to give us a dizzying trip to both the light and dark side of life. It’s often a steep drop from one extreme to the other: joy-sadness, expecting-disbelief, hopeful-hopeless, assured-anxious, expansive-contracted, connecting-detaching, full-empty, beginning-ending. Certainly none of these feelings are unique to baby loss. But babies tend to bring out our strongest and most tender feelings, and the abrupt and dramatic shift related to attaching to them and losing them is particularly stunning.
The outlier moments in our life, those that are bigger– whether bright or dark– demand notice. They take our energy and attention and become landmarks in our memory. The two halves of the spinning, messy embrace we see in Yin and Yang symbol remind me of times when I have felt the opposing sides of my own life experience.
I have a memory of being five months pregnant on an Easter Sunday. I was lying on a lounge chair in the backyard of my then home feeling the sunshine on my skin and the movements of my baby inside me. At that moment everything felt connected and right.
I have memories of being in the hospital a couple of weeks later and feeling that I was losing more than I could handle. People mentioned how beautiful the weather was outside and I remember thinking that they must be living on another planet. I wondered if anything could feel OK again.
At the time, the two experiences seemed worlds apart. As I think about this now, it seems clear that it was two sides of me loving and losing someone dear to me. The memories now are held as interrelated and coexist as important part of my life.
When we are in a great place, it can help to remember a little about the other side and appreciate our time away from it. When in a tough place, it can help to remember the light of past and future, and that it’s as real as anything else. If we are in pain, it’s our time to breathe through the experience until we find another feeling. If we are in the best of times, it’s time to breathe it in, noticing the hell out of it because we will need some in reserve pretty soon.
Whether it is a time of celebrating or grieving, thriving or enduring, I think there is something to gain in being aware of what lies on the other side of the line (and the dot that is a little bit on our side). We can appreciate knowing there are limits to whatever we are feeling now, knowing at some point the game of tag will continue and the other side will be “it”. Being aware that there is a finite time when we’re in the worst of our pain makes it bearable. And remembering that our time on the sweet side is temporary can help us savor it a bit more.