Last year I lived my first mid-west winter. As a girl coming out of the blue skies of Alabama, I had no idea what to expect. Turns out, neither did my new Hoosier neighbors. I lived in Indiana during its worst winter in record history.
Needless to say… I hated it.
By the end of winter I had already completed applications to two other colleges back down south.
What I realized as winter returned a few months early this year, and I fell back into the despise that overtook me for a decent chunk of my freshman year, is I have an image of winter that my mind refuses to let be even remotely positive. It then registered to me, that I see seasons in black and white. Winter is bad. Summer is good. Fall is good, unless it carries an early winter, then it is bad. Spring is good unless it carries a late winter, then it is bad as well.
As I really sought out this quality in myself, I fearfully recognized that it is a mentality I have carried as a burden in so may aspects of my life.
Anyone who knew me in high school knew clear what I felt of my town. I felt trapped by it. It wasn’t a place for me, so in my mind it was bad, and therefore anyone who belonged to it was bad. Black and white. Good or bad.
I missed so much. I missed my last crisp wind and hot chocolate memory of the annual Christmas parade. I missed out on the last football game of my senior year, and the final bonfire pep-rally. All because it was my town, and therefore it was bad. I missed out on opportunities to bond with people in my class because in my head I was about to leave, so the relationships would be pointless. I missed out on opportunities to get involved, because quite frankly I didn’t allow myself to feel like doing anything. I wanted out of this place, because I saw this other place I wanted to be in, and therefore the place I was currently in felt irrelevant, and therefore I missed out.
I’m a pretty big sucker for black and white photos. I think they look better. They make my heart happy. I don’t know what it is about them. They’re just a preference. But not even black and white photos are black and white. If you ever took a black and white photo and left nothing of it except the things completely black or completely white, you would have nothing but utter confusion on the polaroid paper. Even black and white worlds need the million shades of gray to create them.
When I was only seeing good or bad in people, and places, and even weather, I was creating unrealistic pictures of each. A few off qualities doesn’t define a place as bad, and a few admirable qualities doesn’t make it a utopia. That’s what happened when I got to college. I started making my college into my hometown, classifying it as bad, because there were a few white qualities I forced on it that it could never live up to. I created pseudo-lives for myself, and forced these depictions on those around me.
Don’t seek out good people and bad people, good places and bad places, just see things for what they are, and recognize how you can grow it, and grow in it. Seek out the gray. Find the details that create life. Find the aspects of the person that makes them who they are, recognize their flaws, but don’t paint them black. Recognize what you like about them, but don’t force these qualities to be only white. Recognize their gifts, their quirks, the things that draw you to them, and the way to deal with the things that may push you away, and allow life to be realistic in your eyes.
I returned to Indiana for a second year of school, and as I hear the wind against my dorm window daring me to come test it, and I look out at snow mocking me as a January in November, I find it in myself to be at rest. That’s the gray I have found in winter. It forces me to rest. Snow covers the ground and reminds me to recover. It tells me I am allowed to stay in my room for that day, because I have no reason to leave. It tells me I am allowed to buy the heaviest, coziest blanket in Target and wrap it around me as I drink hot chocolate (a drink only socially acceptable in the winter). The grays of winter tells me to wind down, to relax, and to save my energy, because nature knows the non-stop life we live when the snow melts. The gray makes winter beautiful.
Life is not black and white. There are so many shades of gray to adore.
Photograph: Lauren Mascari and Taylor Hillegonds