I always thought the world lost its color in winter. The brilliant blue of the ocean transforms into an intense grey, the sky is covered in somber cloud, the trees are stripped of their lush leaves. The earth appears to sleep in the stillness, waiting for the first rays of spring. When the snow comes, there is a time of quiet repose, when everything seems black and white.
It came to pass that on one of those pallid winter mornings, I was travelling on the bus on my way downtown. I passed the time, as I always do, looking out the windows and listening to snippets of conversation. Yes, I confess, I listen to conversations. As a writer, conversations inspire new ideas, spark the development of characters and remind me of the power of natural dialogue. I always drift in and out of these conversations, but there was one that held my attention. It was a conversation between two young girls talking about Rheumatoid Arthritis. It was the first time I’d overheard a conversation about RA between two young people. One girl had a friend with RA. She was trying to explain it to the other girl, who was clearly mystified. “Isn’t it just arthritis”? she asked. She thought arthritis was just black and white.
People who live with arthritis know it is not black and white. There are various types, various symptoms, and various ways it affects us. Arthritis, like life, is a complex palette with many colors. I have arthritis. I also have inflammation, a higher risk for a cardiovascular event, fevers, rash and fatigue. I’m on several medications, and my doses shift and change as my disease progresses or retreats. It appears that I am too young to have arthritis, but sadly I am not. I have good days, I have bad days, and I can never predict what kind of day I will have on any given morning. When the world outside is black and white, my arthritis is always soaked in color.
This conversation was remarkable to me, in that it demonstrated a growing awareness about RA – it’s slowly coming out of the shadows. The dialogue around it is painting a new canvas of awareness. There was a time when arthritis was “just arthritis”, but people are digging deeper to tap into the well of vibrant knowledge festering beneath the surface. Our world is a kaleidoscope of silver, gold, orange, red, green, blue, purple, green, yellow, a mottled cacophony of color, emotions and decisions. Shadows and light are born out of our own passions, reactions, curiosity, wisdom, empowerment and imagination.
Walking home from the office that day, I thought I saw a feverish city muted into a virtual world of black and white – but just like that conversation on the bus, everything was not as it seemed. The crunch of fresh snow beneath my feet unearthed flecks of green in the footprints I left behind. I saw a majestic purple flower defiantly standing in the vortex. There was a glow behind the cloud that illuminated iridescent sparkles in the snow, and above me, the barest hint of a new canvas with a cerulean blue sky in the making.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.