There was a time when I had no concept of opposites. No, that’s not right. There was a time I had no concept of the importance of the opposites to each other.
When someone told me that darkness was essential for one to understand light, or that a heart that hasn’t plumbed the depths of sorrow cannot ascend the pinnacles of joy, I shrugged. I was irreverently convinced that the speaker was being woozy and cotton- headed. It sounded like a load of unadulterated twaddle to me. Typically, and not surprisingly, it also made me belligerent.
A couple of decades later, I find I was clueless, foolish and insufferably pompous. The realization felt like a bucket of ice-water thrown over me. A bit of a rude shock, intended not so much as a kick in the posteriors as a wake up call.
Today, I know how a glass of water feels as it touches my lips and runs down my throat. I know how to rejoice in its refreshing coolness. Its touch is unlike that of any other substance on earth. I know how it slakes the aridity of my soul. I know it, because I have endured the most terrible of thirsts for years.
Were it not for that thirst, I wouldn’t have known the joy water can give. It wouldn’t intoxicate me as it does, as I swirl it in my mouth. It wouldn’t have created the serene pools of contentment in my soul that it does now. I am grateful to that thirst. The years I spent restless with yearning, are irrelevant now. My suffering in those years doesn’t lacerate me anymore. It’s edges have been softened when it was given meaning. Those years and all the pain they contained, were but a means to set the stage for this understanding. I know today how precious water is. I know how to revere it.
In the past you may not have always appreciated the sun. If you are anything like most people, you might have taken the sun for granted. You would have grumbled when it couldn’t shine through a bank of thick clouds. You might have cursed it when it beat down mercilessly on you in summers. You would have wished it would adjust its warmth and light to suit your preferences. Yes, you have preferences… many in fact. It might never have occurred to you that you are being presumptuous. The sun is supposed to be there, you thought; it was a given. You were entitled to the sun after all, weren’t you?
On the other hand, you might have been grateful to the sun. Perhaps you have cultivated the deliberation of pausing in what you were doing and say a silent word of thanks to the sun for lighting up your days and bringing you life. Perhaps you have recently seen a fresh, rain washed tree. The liquid gold dripping off its leaves as the sun bathes it with its brilliance, has made you realized how absolutely magnificent the sun is. Perhaps you have seen the sun glinting on the placid surface of a lake- its brilliance scattered over the surface in prodigious abandon- as a field of diamonds.
But imagine that you are sentenced to spend years in the subterranean, dankness of loneliness. The chill, cold wetness has become a permanent state to you; a state you can feel in your bones. The smell of rot has so permeated your being that you feel the rot is within you. Slowly, you adjust yourself to your fusty and clammy universe. You tell yourself that this is all you were meant to have. To stop your wail of terrorized pain, you become cruel to yourself. You ask yourself what gave you the right to even imagine that a sun- kissed homestead was ever meant for you. Desperately, you try to forget the sun. You tell yourself that it was a figment of your imagination. You pound at your soul, demanding that it believe the sun never existed. With time, a part of you numbs. It goes silent. It doesn’t ask you questions anymore. To all outward appearances, it has been beaten into submission. Under it all, the memory of the sun beats on, frantic with life.
And then the day, when you wake up to feel the caress of the sun on your brow, his warmth enveloping you in a warm cocoon, his brilliance lighting up your world. That day, you learn reverence. Appreciation seems like a pale, unsubstantial concept to you. You love the sun more than you ever thought you could.
Then you know what they mean when they speak of gratitude.