Times of Chaos and Change

I am reminded of the story of Jonathan, a successful artist, who painted large abstract canvases resplendent with every color in the rainbow. When he was 65 years old, he was injured in a car accident and suffered a rare form of brain damage that caused him to suddenly lose his color vision and view the entire world in gray hues, as if on a black and white television set. In an instant Jonathan’s world was shattered — his own paintings were a meaningless jumble to his eye, and he was disgusted by the gray world that he was thrust into.

Dr. Oliver Sacks the neurologist who treated Jonathan describes the depression and fury the color-blind artist felt in those first weeks and months. The “wrongness” of everything was disturbing, even disgusting, and applied to every part of daily life. In those early days, Jonathan would sit and stare in a rage at an orange willing it to be orange. And yet after a few months Jonathan spoke less and less about what he had lost and began to shift away from the world of color. He started becoming a “night person” and would drive to new towns at dusk to explore them in darkness. Jonathan’s work as an artist reflected this brand-new world that he had discovered. A few years after his accident he began painting large black and white canvases, which were more powerful and successful than his color work had ever been. His unique vision was born through terrible pain and loss, but the artist had come to claim it. Jonathan’s experience matches the experience of many of my clients, who find fresh ways of communicating creatively through new disabilities and fully experiencing loss.

Only through mourning the loss of color, did Jonathan find a new world of texture. Likewise, by lamenting over the losses of the old year, we open our hearts to the unexpected beauty, awe, and connection of the unknown future.

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