Finding the Balance Between Sol Y Sombra

If you want to wallow in depression, triggers and blood abound.

Civil war in Syria comes to mind. Closer to home, the Boston Marathon terrorist attack last Sunday killed three and injured 176.

Wednesday was depressing as well. Wednesday began with the dismay experienced by 90 percent of the electorate when too many senators (whose reelection bids were in the gun sights of the National Rifle Association) shot down the Manchin-Toomey gun registration bill by a margin of 54-46.

I, for one, thought we had had enough bad news, but then later that same day, we heard of the fertilizer plant fire/explosion near Waco, Texas. The numbers seem to fluctuate, but the explosion was bloody… let’s say 31 deaths and 100 injuries.

Closer yet to home, we have a damning report from the I-News Network (Rocky Mountain PBS) which shows the growing gaps in income, home ownership, education and health in Colorado. Read the story, see the video and get the free e-book at

Editors will be hard-pressed this weekend. How can they possibly follow the maxim: “If it bleeds, it leads”? Won’t the blood run off the front page and flood onto the floor?

Do we throw ourselves in front of the train or do we find the strength to carry on? And more to the point, just how do we find the strength?

"The Reading Chair" by Tuck Langland Jefferson County Library

“The Reading Chair”
by Tuck Langland
Jefferson County Library

Leaving home in a rush yesterday (heaven forbid that I leave the house without something to read), I grabbed a book. It wasn’t a new book. I had read it before, but given that I had recently culled the number of books in my bookcase, the remains were only books that I wanted to re-read.

And so… I am re-reading (savoring and loving the novel even more the second time) Let the Great World Spin, a National Book Award winner by Colum McCann. The setting is New York City, 1974. The center of attention is a tight rope artist who is walking a 7/8th-inch cable stretched 200-feet between the 110-story Twin Towers.

Philippe Petit, Aug 7, 1974, walking a tightrope between the Twin Towers, NYC

Philippe Petit, Aug 7, 1974, walking a tightrope between the Twin Towers, NYC

The artist is never named in the novel but is based on the French showman Philippe Petit who outside the world of fiction did, indeed, walk between the towers.

The other characters are a mixed bag of people whose lives unexpectedly intersect. Metaphorically, the grieving mother who has lost a son in Viet Nam… the hooker who has lost her daughter to the streets… the celibate monk who is tempted by the warmth of a woman… they also are high wire artists.

As we all are. And that is (beyond the beauty of the prose) the beauty of the book. We identify with each character’s humanity; we see ourselves walking a high wire balanced between the light and the dark.

I was particularly taken with Corrigan, the Irish monk who worked alone amongst the down-and-out. Early on, McCann explain’s Corrigan’s faith:

What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of the everyday. The comfort he got from the hard, cold truth – the filth, the war, the poverty – was that life could be capable of small beauties. […] He consoled himself with the fact that, in the real world, when he looked closely into the darkness he might find the presence of a light all the same. He wanted, quite simply, for the world to be a better place, and he was in the habit of hoping for it. Out of that came some sort of triumph that went beyond theological proof, a cause for optimism against all the evidence.

Despite this past week’s mayhem, those spectators who broke through the barricades to aid the injured at the Boston Marathon were “small beauties.” Likewise, we saw the same selfless outreach by friends and neighbors at the site of the fertilizer explosion in Texas.

Life is a balancing act between the light and the dark, sol y sombra. Shadow-land beckons. Our obligation is to look for those small beauties.

Hudson Lake Park

Hudson Lake Park, Denver

About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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4 Responses to Finding the Balance Between Sol Y Sombra

  1. Richard Pohanish says:

    Hi Doris,   Loved Let the Great World Spin.   I recently finished another Tobias Wolff book, In Pharaoh’s Army…a Viet Nam book and runner up for the NBA a few years back. Although Old School is supposedly fiction (its more of a memoir with fictional characters) and Pharaoh’s Army is non-fiction, the latter is the continuation of Wolff’s eraly life story. He also wroth A Boy’s Life which was made into a rather good movie years ago.   Currently reading Yellow Birds about the Iraq war by Kevin Powers. He is also a really good writer. This is his first novel. Unlike Pharaoh’s Army… which can be funny…there is very little humor in Yellow Birds. Its just filled with killer prose.     Dick  

  2. Suzette says:

    Doris, “A Killer Week” reinforced how important it is to focus on the light, the good. Thank you for providing this inspiration, and showing us that we are not alone in searching for meaning of, or reason for these senseless acts.

    • timeout2 says:

      Thank you, Suzette, Watching you lead us in Tai Chi is a visual affirmation of your search for balance. You and Terry are a great teaching team.


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