We use the word "light" to describe the relatively tiny part in the center of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be detected by the human eye. The spectrum itself stretches off for quite a long way in both directions, left and right, beyond the weensy little bit we can see and sort into colors.
The Chinese have a saying that trying to understand life within the span of a single lifetime is like watching a horse race through a crack in a fence. This is almost literally true of the tiny slice of the spectrum we're able to see as light. When we think of the spectrum, we probably envision something broad and horizontal, like this:
But in fact, placed into the entire spectrum, that spacious gradient of color up there actually looks like this:
We can only see that little notch in the center, All the colors we celebrate in art and poetry and love letters are crammed into that minuscule segment of the spectrum.
But just because our eyes can't see them, it doesn't mean there aren't colors, millions of other colors, trailing off into space, colors like plore and yensh and lorrow, emitted by the parts of the spectrum we can't see. It's silly to try to give them names because -- here, at last, is the point -- we can't even imagine them. We literally cannot visualize colors we've never seen. They're unimaginable colors.
My guess is that most of us with ordinary vision don't go through life wishing there were more colors. At some fundamental level, we believe that we were essentially born with a full box of crayons. If we're missing anything, it's a shade of some color -- purple, for example -- that's a blend of two colors we can see. We might not have a red enough purple in our crayon box, but we can imagine it.
And yet we're practically drowning in colors we can't imagine. If I can't imagine something as fundamental, as primary, as colors, it makes me wonder what else I can't imagine. The reality, for example, of other people's world view. Unconsidered variations of love. The permanent availability and power of forgiveness. Beauty in art I've glanced at or listened to once, and rejected. Better ways to be true to myself and others.
Easter, the holiday of resurrection, is in part a festival of color, which is a residue of its pre-Christian identity as a celebration of the rebirth of spring, when the monochromatic world of winter turns brilliant again. Rebirth is a valuable concept, even a useful one. I personally think rebirth should be something we try to practice daily.
We've all experienced rebirth. We fall in love, and our world changes, although, of course, we're what's really changed: we're reborn. We find the thing we love to do: rebirth. We see Van Gogh's "Starry Night" -- really see it -- for the first time: rebirth. We read a line of poetry; for example (for me), Rilke's "I believe I would know/which one of those stars still burns/like a white city/at the end of its long beam/in the heavens." Rebirth. We do something we didn't know we could do: rebirth. We're re-centered, re-energized, refocused. Reborn.
When we live literally surrounded by realities we can't imagine, it seems to me disastrous not to try to be open to them, to be content to wake up every day in the prison of our limited sensibilities without trying to find a way toward new feelings, ideas, commitments, even realities: impossible colors. When I look at the eggs in that Easter basket up there, it reminds me that I need to be open to rebirth, even tiny rebirths, on a daily basis.
I know none of this is new, but Easter, which I don't celebrate in the conventional sense, brings it to mind. I have the blessing of being a writer, meaning I get to trot characters around and see what's wrong with their lives, and that has made me doubly aware in my own life of the almost constant need for re-evaluation, for re-commitment, for constant redefinition of the word "possible" or even "unimaginable." For rebirth, in other words. So my Easter message to you, as I sit here in a blaze of invisible unimaginable colors, is a line from Bob Dylan: He not busy being born is busy dying.
Happy Easter or Passover or whatever holiday it is for you.
Tim -- Sundays