I can remember being a very young child, first or second grade, and asking one of the nuns with whom I spent so much time, “But why is blue blue?” She didn’t understand, at first, what I was asking; perhaps because I didn’t really understand what I was asking. Eventually we both understood the question: How was the concept of blue arrived at and who called it blue?
I wasn’t satisfied with that – even then, to me, it seemed to dodge the question, or, rather, to make all questions irrelevant – but she was a nun and I was a good Catholic boy, expected to grow into the first American Pope. I went on my way. But it was one of the first times I recall being conscious of the fact that if I wanted answers to the questions that bothered me, chances were there was no one who had them. I would have to find them myself.
I can’t explain why it is that I have never been comfortable accepting received wisdom, nor why I have always been suspicious that many tenets and beliefs are illusions supported by specious confirmation bias. I’ve been developing my own cosmology since before I knew what a cosmology was. Years later, in my early twenties, I wrote a long and involved theory about “blue” – which I cited and used for years whenever trying to explain myself to someone, or, to explain why I didn’t – couldn’t – just believe and accept things. Further reading and exposure to philosophers and scientists and religionists and essayists gave me to understand that such existential doubts and exploration were hardly unique to me. Still, recent events have given me cause to re-visit what I’ve always called “The Blue Theory.”
Long story short: words are just symbols of symbols. Humanity is such a complex, infinite possibility of paths and potential, that no two people have exactly the same concept or reaction to the word “blue.” For me, it is the color of my dead father’s eyes and the smell of freshly laundered sheets which have been line dried. Except for the days when it is a particular sort of melancholy associated with Joni Mitchell’s album, “Blue”, and especially the track “The Last Time I Saw Richard.”
Except for the days when it is my mood. Except for the times when it refers to a particular sort of pornography of a particular era. Except when it refers to a style of music. We all have our ideas of “blue” and, yet, when we read it or speak it, we all agree that we know what “blue” means and what a person is talking about.
On one level, I suppose we do. But mostly, we don’t. And not only do we not really know what anyone means – what their frame of reference is and history and energy behind what they’re saying – we have all somehow agreed to be okay with that.
We live inside the boundaries of received wisdom and assumption; inside the confines of labels having to do with gender and age and sexuality and race and religion and on and on and on – the ways that we limit people and make the world (and people) small enough to comprehend.
I could spend the remainder of my life writing about what blue means to me and still not have enough words nor time to actually capture it, communicate it to you. And that’s just one word. If we can’t actually ever understand what one word means to another person, what one word conjures in another person, how can we ever really know another person at all?
This bothers me. But it doesn’t bother me because we can never fully, completely know the infinity that is anything – it bothers me because so many people seem content to close their worlds inside safe walls and believe they do know something. So many people think they are “right” about so much. So many people operate from such strict definites and definitions. So many people close themselves off from the possibilities of all that is.
And what bothers me even more is that now – in an age when more and more information is available to more and more people – rather than having the effect of widening the world and expanding the thoughts and emotions we are all living and sharing and growing – the exact opposite seems to be happening. Rather than living in the Love and Light of All That Is and Might Be, we seem, in many ways, as a race, to be retreating into fear.
We must remember the possibilities. I was reminded of this last night when a friend turned me on to David Eagleman‘s TedTalk with this YouTube. Watch:
I’ve been saying it for decades. And I am not unaware of how difficult is a life in which you are constantly trying to be on guard against allowing confirmation bias and assumptions and received wisdom to limit you. It’s difficult and it’s lonely and it’s sometimes terrifying and often, it can hurt. Often, such a life includes seeing people in Love rather than in Fear, seeing the possibilities of what they are – and what you could be with them – and there is nothing more terrifying to people than that. There is nothing that will break a heart faster than thinking you’ve found someone who loves the “possible” and “all that is” of you, only to discover, alas, what they loved was their idea of what you should be to serve their needs.
And nothing will break a soul faster than thinking you’ve not been what you should be, could be, were meant to be – and have failed not only another, but yourself. Been there. Done that. Wrote the novel.
Now here – today – having been feeling a bit “blue” for various reasons as the 2nd Sunday in June approaches, I have come to this: for whatever reason, I never managed to find that “Wuthering Heights” romance-type person who fully understood what “blue”, let alone “Charlie” meant; and for whatever other reason, I gravitated too much toward people who didn’t even really have a sincere interest in doing so – and so, what I would like, maybe, if I can’t win the lottery or get published or win a Tony Award or be remembered kindly, is to meet just once upon a time someone who was actually interested in finding out what my “blue” means – with no other agenda but to discover my own, unique color.