A few years back, I turned on the radio to hear an old favorite sung slowly and sensitively by Caecilie Norby, unknown to me at the time. It moved me to ponder each line, each word, each syllable as never before. That song was Both Sides Now, by the artist Joni Mitchell:
Bows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air,
And feather canyons everywhere,
I’ve looked at clouds that way.
But now they only block the sun,
They rain and snow on everyone.
So many things I would have done,
But clouds got in my way.
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down and still somehow
It’s clouds’ illusions I recall;
I really don’t know clouds at all.
Moons and Junes and ferris wheels,
The dizzy dancing way you feel,
When every fairy tale comes real,
I’ve looked at love that way.
But now it’s just another show,
You leave ’em laughing when you go.
And if you care, don’t let them know,
Don’t give yourself away.
I’ve looked at love from both sides now,
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall;
I really don’t know love at all.
Tears and fears and feeling proud,
To say “I love you” right out loud,
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds,
I’ve looked at life that way.
But now old friends are acting strange,
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed.
Well something’s lost but something’s gained,
In living every day.
I’ve looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall;
I really don’t know life at all.
It really is true that when I reflect on life these days, I often recognize my current perspective as my story, doubtlessly different from the actual experience lived through – and certainly a departure from another’s memory of the same event. Just when I think I know something for sure, I realize I’m only acknowledging part of a greater picture.
Warmth and tenderness are but two facets of human nature. Bits of anger and bitterness also dwell within, even though some might not like to admit to these unsavory qualities. Looking at life from both sides allows one to mature and grow through witnessing stretches between the agony and the ecstasy of experience. Conceding to both sides can be accomplished simply by observing, without harshness or judgment, what is. Rejoicing in the light, one acknowledges the inevitable shadows. From both polarities, one gains perspective, balance and eventual integration into a sort of muddy middle.
Life is not black or white, nor are clouds, nor is love. Nothing in our world is that static. I daresay most of us live life as though on a fulcrum, constantly balancing give and take, win and lose, up and down, joy and pain. If we plunge to any extreme with the hope of remaining there, aren’t we are bound for disappointment, not to mention discomfort? Think of the hapless particle in an accelerator – the more the physicist tries to isolate and pin it down, the faster it moves.
Life itself does not have the power to disenchant us – only our illusions about life can do this. One can choose to recall certain poignant moments, but they may prove to be illusory when scrutinized more carefully. Two people involved in the heat of romance may experience rapture, but would no doubt describe the experience quite differently. Two siblings remember a parent or a family event on their own terms. Who is right? Who has the final say on the nature of experience?