Darkest Dark: The Key to Sympathy

When I began taking art lessons in my early teenage years, one of the first things I was taught was the basics to proper shading. In the studio, surrounded by oils, brushes, textiles and glazes, the instructor began by handing me nothing but a charcoal pencil and a piece of thin, creamy paper. I was told to draw a horizontal rectangle, and begin with the most intense color possible at one of its ends, to the least amount at its other end, finishing with nearly a blank background.

“From your darkest dark, to your lightest light,” she would say.

The drawing advice was repeated enough to stick with me. As I mindlessly sketched away my secondary school years, on my folders, binders, birthday cards, I would find myself giving my figures lines that were aggressively, thrillingly opaque. A poppy with soft, inner petal and fierce edges; a balloon that could have burst from its own, piercing shadow. A half a decade later, I am a transitional adult, using cheap acrylics to add blackened, indigo fringes to my whimsical stark-white clouds. The phrase whirled long enough that it remained and eventually became metaphorical.

“…my darkest dark to my lightest light, my darkest dark to my lightest light… my Darkest Dark…”


I will never forget how sour I made myself in church, during my adolescence, listening to the prayer requests of my peers. How ridiculous their appeals seemed — the test on Friday, a cousin with a sprained ankle, a failing relationship — when I was losing sleep without my mother home, who was likely to be restlessly flipping through the same, dreadful magazine in the hospital, wearing a breathing mask that covered her lovely, saddened face; lying alone, behind bolted doors. It angered me, that others allowed themselves to be so troubled by such seemingly meaningless predicaments in comparison to my own. Eventually, I tired of being upset, so I taught myself a new coping method. After weeks of learning and adjusting, I developed a mindset for becoming more sympathetic.

Let us begin with a shading practice of our own. This rectangle represents the levels of human reaction to the painful and tragic. The more intense the color within, the more distressing the event, the larger the crack in a breaking heart.


Here is where the variable comes in. Of course, you and I are different people, yes? Perhaps you have come across several calamities, God bless you. This time another boulder rolls upon your path, and it is greater than you have ever known before. Your rectangle widens, because the sorrows of your past are no longer your darkest. What most do not realize is that these rectangles vary infinitely in shape, depending on the number of sorrows one had to endure. The greater the length of the rectangle, the greater the understanding, the greater the tolerance.


Your darkest dark, your Rock Bottom, was not the same event as another’s (and they will never know it like you do). However, that also means that whether or not theirs seem small in comparison to yours, they actually did experience one, like you did. Think of a child when he trips and scrapes his soft little knee, when he sobs hysterically and reaches out to you for comfort. Think of you, too. You have the life experiences to understand that there are greater tragedies than something that can be cured with a Band-Aid. If you had done the same to your own knee, it would have been painful, but you would not have been nearly as devastated as the child in front of you is. Despite this, you pick him up and hold him, because you realize that, for him, this truly is a terrible moment worth letting out tears. You might recall similar actions from yourself when you mourn: weeping, yearning for rescue. The child’s expanse in the understanding of pain, of hurting, is lesser than yours, but he is still validly emotional. His rectangle is shorter in length, and this, for now, is one of his darkest darks.

Dare I say that, that black moment, when you gnashed your teeth, pulled at your hair by its roots, collapsed to your knees, was something that I, too, felt deeply over an event, that to you might only have been worthy of a heather grey. In those times of waiting rooms, of trays with casseroles, hand sanitizers and impassive white walls, I would have been foolish to believe that the darkest my life had ever gotten was the darkest that one ever could be. There were the homeless, the deathly sick, notorious Kids in Africa to be sent money to. However, I should not have let myself be embarrassed to be wounded in comparison. Their trials were something that I had no capacity to comprehend. On the same note, those fellow church members my age were rightful in being upset about their trials. Those may not have been their worst times, but, what if they were? Who was I to assume that they were not distraught as I was, that they did not toss in their beds, forget to eat, hate the brutal Southern sun as it enraged an already burning headache?

If you are in affliction, reader, you must know to not be afraid to cry. Be more forgiving to yourself; realize that this is a darker dark. If you happen across another who aches, do not first judge for yourself whether or not your troubles are worse, for pain is perceptive. Grief is only known by one host, only gauged by one soul. Instead, be at haste to offer a kind word, a clap on the back, whatever appropriate, simple action for bringing a bit of peace. Because each of us are just of one mind, that is all we can do, yet how sweet a world would taste if it was seasoned, ceaselessly, with sympathy that is unhesitant.

About "To Have a Home in a Memory"

I had the chance to speak with Dan Clark, the primary contributing author of the New York Times best seller, Chicken Soup for the Soul. He was incredibly interested in my love for writing and asked for me to read to him one of my works. On July 23, 2016, I read “To Have a Home in A Memory” to Mr. Clark. He was impressed enough to call it “profound,” and mentioned his favorite points from the writing — mentioning the difference between “to be loved” and “to be needed” — in his speech at the Leadership Breakfast in Wichita Falls, TX, in front of over nine hundred people.

About “To Have a Home in a Memory”


To Have a Home in a Memory

“What do you want to be when you grow up, little one?”

An incredibly unfair question this had been, really. No, of course I had not yet understood the coldness of searching for employment. Gritty newspapers, reddened eyes. Scrolling and scrolling and scrolling through job listings. For those mysterious, towering adults, their inquisitiveness had only been a form of small talk (what else do you discuss with a three-year-old?). However, to me, the topic was nothing less than a matter of My Life Purpose, something which, at the time, was born from a desire that I had spent plenty of past-bedtime hours fantasizing about, eventually convincing myself to be confident of its reality. Little known to them, I had already begun living with a permanent, crippling addiction to dreaming. What was even less known: how serious I had intended my answer to be.

“Famous,” I had said, clumsily wiping my nose with the back of a chubby hand.

“A famous singer.”


My parents and many of their friends can attest to the little shows that I would throw, watching me toddle wide-legged over to my pastel bedroom to dig through the treasure chest of dress-up clothes and return to the dinner table dressed-to-the-nines. I felt so, so complete, to be with my oversized lavender hat, bubblegum-pink feather boa, and gaudy, plastic jewelry to dazzle my neck and fingers. It was as if destiny itself was sewn throughout, woven between sequins, and it was satisfying, righteous.

To Mom and Dad, my enthusiasm for performing was adorable. How fearless I was! They would giggle, delighted that such a show-stopper had graced their presence to entertain them and their peasant guests.

“Alright, Leksi. Sing us a song!”

I would. Goodness, I would. It was horrific. My immature vocal chords could only struggle forth so many notes. This handicap, along with my dramatic will to impress my audience, resulted in a shallow, crazed monotone. What made it even more ridiculous was my faux pax refusal to choose pieces expected to be sung by my age group (“You Are My Sunshine,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” etc.) and instead singing original work by improvisation. My songs in themselves had the ability to cause cringes, with lyrics mostly consisting of the absolute epitomes of all magical, abstract things that I could come up with — moons, stars, and fairies — in repetition.

It must have looked like some kind of ritual, and I think that is why my parents would laugh, shake their heads in embarrassment, and say “How about you sing ‘I’m A Little Teapot’ or something?”

When I denied this request, the grown-ups would still politely pretend to enjoy it all, swaying their heads and clapping their hands.


This wish, goal, didn’t leave until I was fifteen. By that time, the powerful blaze that existed when I was younger had been well extinguished, but amongst the dead, ash-black ruin, a single faded spark still fluttered, blinking in and out, displaying a miniature sunset of its own. Like a doubting Christian searches for answers, I desperately pursued for a hope, scanning through talent agencies and sitcom tryouts in Dallas. At last, I settled upon entering to audition for one of those on-screen, reality TV talent shows that I had always secretly loved. It was there that a Californian, silver-headed producer licked his thumb and forefinger and, with mannered grace, put out that last flickering ember in one, sweeping pinch.

Despite all of this, few things have ever remained so maddeningly compelling to me than the greedy idea of being remembered. It is a drive that has become habitual: a tattered, embroidered aphorism that was never taken down from the front door. Yes, I have grown out the hall-of-fame aspirations, but I still find it romantic, fulfilling, to imagine a place for myself in someone else’s universe of thought. However, I would happily take the position of the old sofa in a quaint living room, when in my younger years, I would have accepted nothing less than the elegant, blasting flat-screen. I would rather be the handy pair of scissors in the drawer of the apartment kitchenette, the patch of fresh sage in the garden of a close friend’s heart. I wish for my name to bring a few moments of warmth when it is said aloud, thought of. Perhaps I am even delirious enough to envision that I might be appreciated when my name isn’t known at all: the door-holder, the small-talker, the girl at the bus stop who was familiar with your hometown, even the blurred image, who, when you were running late to work, stopped to help you pick up your spilled and chaotic files off of the pounding linoleum. It is selfish to think these things, I know, but sometimes I find it exhilarating to depict myself as the ghost of a good memory— among the heroic, who only dwell phantasmagorically.


There are moments, in reflection, that I recognize my current self in the personality of my younger self. Can you relate to this phenomenon? Do share in the comments.


To the Babysitters of My Childhood: I Apologize

Once my lifeguard certification expired last May, it was understood that I needed to find a different form of work before my studies suck me in again come August. I have turned to what is most natural for this summer: agreeing to babysit for as many families as I have the opportunity to accept. Swimming pools replaced by trampolines, sunscreen by bug spray, whistle-blowing by time-outs. I love the children that I care for — the giggles, the unmatched genuineness, their exuberant, exaggerated personalities — but every time that a situation requires discipline, I cannot help but have a swelling ache of sympathy for the girls who used to watch over my siblings and me.

Of course, it was always after bedtime that these amusements came to our minds, after the sitter had taken the time to feed us, bathe us, and tuck us in (the poor thing, finally sitting in the love seat, pulling out a book, and taking in the first deep breathes she had experienced all night). There was an evil sneakiness that came with the lights switched off, and my sister and I, sharing a bedroom, were the ones to initiate the mission: signal baby brother next door and creep into the living room… without getting caught.

What feels like a test of authority to me now, as a caregiver, was simply a game to me as a child. An antagonist was needed for our main objective, and the sitter, regardless of who she was that night, always filled the part. There we would be, my sister and I, slinking across the carpet on hands and pajama-covered knees to peer past the doorframe. We thought we were incredibly stealthy: checking down the hall periodically, maintaining a steady breathing pattern through our mouths and using other techniques acquired through a seasoned history of hide-n-seek and its various editions.

More often than not, these adventures resulted in the sitter thundering down the hall, swooping us up to bring us back to our beds, and, through a heavy exhale, closing the door behind us. Unfortunately for her, however, just one attempt was never enough. Around our second or third capture we would receive the If You Get Up One More Time I’m Calling Your Mom spiel.

Rarely, our goal was accomplished, and even then the sole reward of an adrenaline dose eventually wore away. We found ourselves squeezed behind a couch, sleepy-eyed, and — with our youthful lack in the understanding of time — drearily concluding that we would be hiding there for the rest of our pitiful lives. During these extraordinary occasions, I was forced to make the executive decision to return back to base on our own. Finally.

It is memories such as these that are best replayed when I am kneeling in the opposite role with my fist to the floor, pretending to pick up a stray plastic toy when I truly just need a moment to bring myself out of shame for carrying little so-and-so back to his room for the third time. All in all, they’re just kids. Perhaps I am too young to understand whether or not their mischievousness is out of calculated trickery or innocent play (or, instead, perhaps I am too old), but in either case, I would like to believe that their small adventures are easing into their memories somehow, too, and that whatever faded image is left of me will be one to be proud of.

Have any stories of your own about babysitting experiences, or even about being babysat? Do share by clicking the “Leave a Comment” option above.