The Other Shades of Gray

When I was a young mother, life churned more. There was the corporate job, the car pool, the Saturday errands, the needs of a child, which can make a day vanish in a heartbeat. And because I was the breadwinner, the provider, I needed some shortcuts. One of them was that I pushed things into lists that were black or white

  • This pile of laundry was clean, this was dirty
  • This food was fresh and that food was junk
  • This choice was right and that decision was wrong
  • This book I loved and that one I hated

As I said, it made life easier.

Now that I have different priorities, the world has morphed into many shades of gray. I like parts of book and skim over other parts. The dish of leftovers in the fridge need to be eaten soon, but don’t have to be eaten for lunch today.

This view didn’t bring me more time, it simply means that I don’t make decisions so quickly and so permanently. I change my mind (thank goodness I’m not in politics, that would never do). I re-think, re-consider, and don’t label with quite the vigor I used to. And this seems to make my life easier instead of harder.

Yesterday, there was a difficult man–one of the people we meet who have a tiny bit of power and wield it in a huge way. He was openly hostile, and finally, he called me a bitch because I asked him to please keep the noise down in the hallway where I was teaching.

People in the class were visibly upset. One suggested I find his supervisor and lodge a complaint. Another one suggested I write a letter to the organization and demand an apology.

Shades of gray from

Shades of gray from

And once I may have done that. But something interesting happened here. There was no pinch to his insult. No pain and therefore no anger. I knew what he said was from a frustrated human trying to show his power. It had nothing to do with me. So I didn’t care that he’d called me a bitch. It wasn’t about me.

And any  additional time I spent in this process would simply drain me. So I shrugged it off. I couldn’t have done that if either the accusation rang true or if I had to make the incident either vital or trivial. It was neither. It was just another moment in reality to walk through. And I decided to keep walking.

–Quinn McDonald doesn’t miss the black-or-white days. She likes the slightly more nuanced world of gray.

19 thoughts on “The Other Shades of Gray

  1. A very unhappy person – what a pity because no-one gains. How I wish a simple smile could heal everything. Our Manchurian Pear trees are such a wonderful colour at the moment – Autumn is a lovely season. The Japanese Maples are nearly finished though.

  2. Congratulations Quinn – well done. I have for a number of years managed to do what you did – I call it biting my tongue and letting things wash over me. But at the moment I am struggling to gain some equilibrium. The shock of my DH’s aggressive prostate cancer diagnosis, then the operation and complications and now the loss of intimacy as we cope with recuperation has left me floundering to regain my sense of me. Art is helping but I worry that I am becoming a recluse and distancing myself from my friends. This is silly as the recuperation is going well but I am not – time will help – I hope?

    • Dear Sandybx,
      Fifteen years ago my husband suffered a traumatic brain injury. For three years he couldn’t work, could barely function. I had to close my business and stay home to care for him. His judgment was impaired and his balance was off. He couldn’t remember people he had known all his life and he would repeat the same questions over and over. It couldn’t have been statements! It had to be questions that would require an answer and it drove me crazy. Or I thought it would.
      He’s better now. I still see, feel the difference but our lives are better than those years. Perhaps we have just grown accustomed to the changes. He is working again.
      I lost myself in those years. We lost some of the intimacy you mentioned. He couldn’t remember, he couldn’t function physically (on many levels) and he couldn’t be left alone. Combine this with the fact that he knew something was wrong. it was hard and I missed my life and him.
      Fast forward to today….in July we celebrate forty three years of marriage. He’s working again and his memory is back, or most of it. There are good days and bad days but we are together and we got through it. And so will you. It’s a temporary chapter in your life.
      The chapters in your life book may read a little differently than it might have but it will go on. The bigger the change, the smaller the steps to recovery.
      Be patient with him, and with yourself.

      • Thank you Dancinghair woman – yesterday afternoon was a better time – we went for a walk around a lake in the autumn sun. I think it is being patient with myself I find the hardest – I do not normally have my emotions so close to the surface and in the past, have never really had days where I dillydally like I do now – strange times.

    • If any of us thought about all the things that could go wrong in life (from getting let go from a job to having to deal with serious illness in a spouse), we’d never do anything. As we get older, the chances are that more things will go wrong. This is the really tough part–because often, there are no resources for older people. And I mean over 45 or 50. That’s when society begins to feel uncomfortable with aging. Time is a great giver of perspective. As you change and your husband changes, you will each gain a different viewpoint, maybe needs. Change is not always wanted, but we can’t run from it. What IS important is that you always allow yourself some part of your life to nurture yourself and be creative. Whatever works for you–time alone, reading, writing, doing art. The human spirit is resilient, but we have to give it time and tools to make the resilience work. And it is never, ever easy. But it can be a huge growth step.

  3. Guess who just turned 50…yep brain functioning on a way different level….not sure i am able to do much about it!x

  4. It’s all a learning process, isn’t it? Black, white and shades of in-between. I do think it has to do with maturity but not necessarily age. My grand daughter at thirteen is able to assess a situation and respond rather than react. Her father, my son hasn’t grasped that yet. Their dance is interesting…he’s reacting and she’s giving him time to take a breath so they can discuss “whatever” calmly. Clearly she is an old soul and he is….not.
    Congratulations on your newfound freedom!
    And congratulations for living what you have said over and over. “Be nice.” Who knows what kind of day that disagreeable man was having. You may have been the pivotal point in his day, week, month, year…..not to mention the ripples…..

    • I bought my wisdom dearly. It took me a long time to grow up because it was demanded of me quickly and I resisted. Your granddaughter does indeed sound like an old soul. How fortunate for you! Losing my temper has never made me feel better.

  5. I agree so much with the way you dealt with this situation! Sometimes things just aren’t worth the effort to get too wrapped up in unnecessary drama. I like to look at these situations by thinking if it will still bother me to the same extent in three days, three weeks, three months and then three years. If I can honestly say that in three days that I won’t care, then it’s really not worth getting worked up about in that instant. Or as I used to say to student staff running into my office wanting to speak with the residence manager who was generally in a meeting at the time “Is it critical, urgent, life threatening or blood flowing?” In most instances, the student really only needed some info that I could easily get for them. Situation safely resolved. Shades of gray can be quite relaxing when it comes to life’s situations.

    • I love the “three days, three weeks. . . ” idea. This one wasn’t going to get space in my brain for three minutes. But I was startled how much some people wanted me to “defend myself.” Nope, no defense needed in this case. Moving on seemed a more productive step.

  6. I wonder if today’s version of you were to be transported back to that portion of your life, sharper edges and more contrast would still be helpful because of events.
    It’s hard to tell for sure, but I think I find a softer but wider focus on things is a function of maturity. I read somewhere that some native American culture believed that real adulthood didn’t begin until sometime after 50.

  7. How bizarre….I said yesterday to a friend,I moved because I couldn’t handle floundering in the grey area anymore,I need things to be more black and white for a while and regain my control. I have two children,my instincts were screaming that school was no longer right for them where they lived,although they had had an idyllic young time running around in fields and swimming in rivers,there will be much we miss about our old life. Many of the reasons I left the uk are now some of the reasons I have returned..because as you get older you change and your attitude and needs change. I hate routine,wasting food,authority and being told what to do…but when you have kids life flips on its head and you have to have structure and lists and wake up in the morning your first tought being what are you going to cook tonite that will be healthy,within budget blah blah,we are caught up in the domestics and some of it is mundane. So much background noise that often stops us being our creative selves.What an inspiration you are,generally people are nice,,but when faced with confrontation it does knock us,,I love that you share these issues with us,I am sure we always think we are the only ones having a bad day or had to deal with a tricky situation,been treated unfairly…truth is we all have crap to deal with everyday…not very articulate sorry….and we sometimes think its only us. It knocks our confidence and then makes us stronger if we deal with it in the right way. Ok…off to set up my new little vintage stall in funky local market cooperative and tonite fill in pages more of government forms..ugh. Can’t believe so difficult to move back to the country you were born in and spent forty years of life paying taxes and working….but I am here, there are daffodils everywhere,a sea of yellow today ,spring is on its way,and no more moaning from me…..and my kids are on day five of new school and love it…Yipppeee…mission accomplished,..well nearly.x

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