The world was most decidedly not black and white. It wasn’t even black, white, and a handful of gray. It was a myriad rainbows of granularities, shades, and contrasts all in gray. She was aware of this, and yet, somehow, she assumed she could put the grays into boxes, label each one black or white and move contentedly through her life. That was, of course, not so.
Each time a challenge presented itself, a shade of gray that crept out of one box and inched its way toward another she would sit and reevaluate all of them. It seemed the only thing to do. If one shade of gray had been judged unfairly might not all of them be wrong? The process was time consuming but worthwhile. A periodic evaluation of one’s priorities always leaves a satisfied feeling. Except when it does not, as would happen when just a day later, or perhaps even hours later, the feeling of not-quite-rightness would creep around the edges and she’d begin to wonder if another reshuffling of grays was in order.
And so it was on that cold December last day of the year that she took out all of the boxes and sat down to decide if it was worth the trouble to keep things in boxes. She watched the sunrise sitting at her kitchen table, a cup of very properly steeped tea next to her and thought about the shades of gray.
There was no one thing that she could commit to that would always be wonderful. Every action had risks, every decision had a downside. That much at least was clear. But which downsides should one avoid? Which should one embrace? Did the joy of having a baby outweigh the sleepless nights? Did the pleasure of eating an entire bag of candy make up for the stomachache afterwards? How sweet did the wine have to be to negate the headache that came the next morning?
All these and more she pondered while the tea grew cold and the sky changed cold. It was red now, with orange on the edges, a red sky when she was trying to decide black from white. Her house was quiet, the only noise came from the stack of undecided things in her mind. A tidy little stack, decisions organized from shortest lasting to longest. At the top there was what to wear today, at the bottom there was how to live her life. Smack in the middle was the kitten.
She had not decided yet about the kitten, but burying that choice in the large stack of things to be decided somehow did not hide it. While she could ponder what to make for supper that night or even how to brush her hair that morning the kitten question loomed. It peaked out around corners, not unlike an actual kitten, tiptoeing in on quiet cat feet then presenting itself – poof – as if it were magic. The kitten, it seemed, was both ready to join her and ready to forgotten at the same time.
There were many things, she thought, that she had put away for later. Later never came though and while she still thought herself young the undeniable truth was that she had never seen the great pyramids or sailed the seven seas. These were things that she could easily put aside, after all both the pyramids and the seas would be there. But would there always be another chance to take in a kitten just before winter got bad? She assured herself that there would and went back to the decisions on the top of the stack.
Except that a noise came to her, not quite a mew but something close, reminding her of the kitten decision and with it the idea that life was not black and white. The kitten, the seven seas, the pyramids, they were all actually shades of gray. Good and bad mixed in until you came to moments that were both good and bad at once, and how was one meant to rule on them? It was incredibly disquieting. To soothe herself she went about moving things into categories again, sure that this time they would stay there.