Dark as light

Posted on Mar 17 2023

There really isn’t anything quite like a funeral that makes you overthink and over feel in the same way or to the same extent. And so today at the open-casket viewing of a friend, my mind and heart wandered extensively between my memories and feelings about everything and anything inevitably finding their way onto the pages here. It’s an odd phenomenon that we often tend to hold people who have passed on with more care, heartfelt thought and deeper feelings than we do while they are alive, but it is a real phenomenon (for many of us) nonetheless. All too often we place greater value on the peripheral things in life than we do on our core, the time and love for those we hold most dear. It’s easy to forget, I suppose, that our time here is limited. Eventually each of us will take our last breath and our time together will come to an end—ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

In perhaps the greatest gift ever bestowed on mankind, only the capacity to love melds a seamless segue between life and death—opposite but interconnected forces in a universe created out of chaotic energy and organized into perpetual cycles of female-male, dark-light and young-old. Such is the concept of yin and yang, a “cosmic duality, sets of two opposing and complementing principles or cosmic energies that can be observed in nature.”

My initial introduction to yin and yang (the yin and yang symbol to be precise) was not rooted in any philosophical ideology. I only knew it as the number “69”; in fact, that’s what we called it, “sixty-nine” and even as a pre-pubescent kid the visual— the interconnectivity of the six and the nine—caught my attention. My peers and I took to drawing the symbol as graffiti. Some of us going so far as to get tattoos of it on places we could hide. Therefore, our earliest attempts at rebelling (between the ages of 8 to 11 years old) are oddly connected (in my mind) to the yin and yang principle of change and difference as with disorder and order or female and male—opposites of the same kind, if you will. And yes, as kids in the Mortlocks we tattooed, burned and cut ourselves at those ages partly as a way to show how tough we were. True story, but I digress.

We can gain through time in darkness greater appreciation for light in the same way we might learn to appreciate life more when juxtaposed with death—does good even exist without bad? More importantly, we grow in our capacity to love through loss. In other words, perhaps our losses lead to stronger gains in what’s left behind—more gratitude, if you will, for what we have and less obsession for what don’t or wish we could have.

In what is arguably the greatest love-story and tragedy ever told, Romeo and Juliet, all that the star-crossed lovers wanted was each other. They held nothing back in telling each other as much, often expressing themselves through oxymorons to emphasize the intensity of their love and emotions for each other. Among the most famous examples, Juliet bids farewell to Romeo during the pivotal balcony scene with, “Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow.”.

“The oxymoronic phrase, “sweet sorrow” signifies that temporary estrangement from one’s lover, simultaneously yields unsettling sorrow and a sweet sense of hopefulness. Hence, for Juliet, the anticipation of her probable reunion with Romeo balances out the pain of temporary separation, emphasizing the coexistence of exquisite joy and sadness” (

Such too is life, unveiling itself with an underlying complexity of our existence as an oxymoron, perhaps the greatest, most-impactful rhetorical device used ostensibly as self-contradiction to reveal a paradox, come to life. In this case, the paradoxical nature of life itself and of course love, the “feather of lead”—at first light as a feather like a breeze that, if unrequited, can feel like a burden as heavy as lead.

Just the other day my 11-year-old son asked me a question he heard on YouTube, “Dad?” he asked. “Isn’t it weird that young people drive so fast like they just don’t have enough time, but old people drive so slow like they have all the time in the world?” I watched him ponder the thought for a moment, but that was all I could do.

That’s a long, drawn-out way to illustrate the meanderings of my mind since the funeral this morning and an even longer, roundabout way to offer my respects and say goodbye to a fallen friend.

Coincidentally, he was just shy of turning 69—a good run. May the family he leaves behind find peace in his absence. Rest easy, my friend…until we meet again. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

James M. Rayphand is the director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and is a former executive director of the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems, Inc.

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