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.


  1. amyscady

    Excellent, excellent, excellent! God has gifted you, NO doubt! You express yourself beautifully, soulfully, with a depth of understanding and humility many adults have yet to attain, Lexi. Carry on little sister…


  2. Jason Carthel

    Wow. Just wow. You have succinctly captured a concept that people have written volumes to explain. You will clearly go on to do amazing things, because you are already doing them. Please keep doing this work.

    Liked by 1 person

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