When I was a little kid right and wrong were so clear to me: Don’t play with fire – that’s wrong. Be nice to your sisters – that’s right. Don’t pull the dog’s tail – that’s wrong. Do your chores – that’s right. Everything seemed very cut and dry, black and white. And if my sisters and I had a fight, verbal or otherwise, there was usually always someone in the wrong and someone in the right, and we were forced to tell each other we were sorry accordingly. Even more important, we were forced to make up. In a way that was - and is - the beauty of family to me. When conflict rears its head, there’s essentially no escaping without some kind of resolution.
When I first moved to LA many years ago, I was determined to live in the world of my childhood where things were black and white, right and wrong. And, I did this very well. Then, after a particularly meaningful romantic relationship of mine ended in my mid-twenties because of my strident views and aggressive behavior, I realized I was no longer living in the confines of my parent’s farm house. I was in the big city. Things were different here. If I chose to verbally duke it out with someone, they could choose not to fight back and instead walk away, disappear into the ether of exhaust fumes and flashing lights of the city and be lost to me for good. This was a horrible realization. And all those things I felt so passionate about before - that seemed so obviously right and wrong - were suddenly called into question because I realized the world was huge, and if my sisters and I were different, well that was nothing compared to the complexities of people you find yourself entangled with once you’re an adult out in the big world. In his book "Wind, Sand, and Stars" Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote: "If our purpose is to understand mankind and its yearnings, to grasp the essential reality of mankind, we must never set one man's truth against another's. Truth, for any man, is what makes him a man."
So, I gave up. I decided to stop endulging in idealogical conflicts. I thoroughly embraced the gray. I refused to go against what I thought were some of the more logically black and white issues I had once held dear, because I felt maybe my ideas of what was right and wrong were antiquated and out of place in a universe where even the "law of gravity" was being redefined. The problem is, I went so far in this opposite direction - away from how I had been raised - that I began to lose my sense of self. And what I realized recently is that life isn’t meant to be lived without conflict. In fact, conflict is often neccesary in helping us keep our identities distinct in relationships and maintain our boundaries. It helps us figure out what’s really important to us, and most interestingly it is one of the only things that allows us to grow closer. The simple truth is, when you transcend any conflict you and another person face, you are bonded by that sense of accomplishment more intensely than anything else your relationship could encounter.
When I was younger there were times when I would have given anything to have a different family. But, now that I’m older I ask myself if I really needed a different family? Or did I need to go through the conflicts I had with my family in order for us to come out on the other side, as we inevitably did, and find ourselves much closer and our relationships much fuller? Some of our conflicts were not small either. There were two years when pretty much everyone in my family refused to speak to me because I had come out of the closet. Yet somehow, we worked through it, and nowadays I cannot wait for my family to meet my next boyfriend.
Despite the fact there are black and white issues that need to be addressed occasionally, there's certainly a lot more of our world that's gray. And I’m aware that even family can disappear into the ether with enough push and fight. But I believe when there are real feelings involved between two people and real love at stake, chances are that things will turn out well when, with dignity and respect, you fight it out even in the big world. I think this is that “working it out” part of life and love we should be encouraged to do because despite the fact that it's sometimes scarey and oftentimes hurts. Nothing great is achieved without some perspiration and perseverance. And at the end of the day, I think that is very, very right!