In the Gray
We exited the park on the opposite side from where we entered. After about thirty minutes of driving uphill and more ear popping, we drove through Tioga Pass at 9,943 feet in elevation, which is the highest drivable mountain pass in the entirety of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We had no idea Tioga Lake even existed, so when the road took a long curve down and around and suddenly opened up to a lake so clear and calm that it reflected a perfectly smooth, upside-down mirror image of the mountains surrounding it, we were mesmerized. Will pulled the car over without question, and we got out to marvel at the perfectly reflected panorama.
I walked out to the furthest point on a small peninsula that jutted out into the lake, and I felt like the upside-down mirror image was relatable. Throughout my deconstruction, I existed in that double image, with two opposite parts of me reflected often in the same moment. The angry nihilist lived in darkness and shadow, while the mystic in me existed in light and clarity, summoning me to hold on to a thread of hope that there could be meaning in a spiritual story greater than myself.
Some days I was filled with nothing but cynicism and pessimism, where I looked upon the world and saw hateful, greedy, meaningless chaos, a sea of animals fighting for the crown that would give them ultimate rule over the rest of reality. On these days, I often could find no solid purpose for living, no reason to believe in any higher power, no confidence that unconditional love could exist.
Yet I could not deny that I had days both before and after I started deconstructing my faith, and even moments so far on the trip, where I clearly felt something I could not attribute to anything but that sense of Divine connection. In these moments it was as if my being and all life around me was a constant manifestation of what we try to point to with the word “God.” I felt connected to all of the life that had come before me and would come after me, and my spirit transcended space and time.
In this moment, standing there at the edge of Tioga Lake, looking out at the mountains reflected upside down on the lake’s surface, I tried to hold both sides of myself in loving tension. I held the contrast in my open hands and was somehow still separate from it, looking at it from a place I cannot quite describe, but a place that somehow seemed like a deeper self—one that witnessed my beliefs, emotions, and doubts.
For the first time I felt like I could take a step back and exist comfortably in the gray space in-between the black and white. The gray space was a place institutions and dualistic systems swore was dangerous and should be feared. For most of my life I had feared it, but I wasn’t scared standing there in the gray. I didn’t feel like I had to judge myself for the contradiction, and for the first time, I didn’t feel like I had to choose between skeptic or mystic. I was somehow both and neither. Something about it brought peace. Something about it pointed to the possibility that ambiguity might not be as scary as I thought, and it might actually be the very place the wisdom, truth, and life I sought would be found.
Maybe that is where our true selves lie, in that gray in-between place where we can hold the entirety of ourselves tenderly with love and without judgment. Maybe, it is in that place where the truest light of life shines its face on us, and we are made new.
About the Author
Emily Dobberstein is a writer, community organizer, backpacker, and world traveler based in Asheville, North Carolina. Emily is an advocate of radical vulnerability and authenticity, and she is dedicated to fostering spaces where everyone belongs and all are welcome at the table.