The law of opposites. It’s the eternal law that we love to hate. Health and sickness. Virtue and vice. Light and darkness. Pleasure and pain. Victory and defeat. War and peace. Why can’t life just be full of happiness and ease without so many sorrows and difficulties along the way? And why does every worthwhile endeavor seem to spawn so much opposition?
We wish we could somehow magically make all of mortality’s madness disappear. We dream of Utopia — problem-free families, marital bliss, carefree jobs, money growing on trees, instantaneous knowledge and even universal political consensus. But our fantasies notwithstanding, the law of opposites, like the law of gravity, is here to stay.
Jay Ritchie was my seventh-grade government teacher when the growth control ordinance was still in its infancy and corporal punishment was still the norm. Mr. Ritchie was a tall, imposing ex-Marine with an abrasive in-your-face teaching style. He seemed to enjoy embarrassing us in front of our peers with epic research projects culminating in scathing critiques of our spotlight solo presentations.
To be honest, Mr. Ritchie scared me spitless. And “loathing” is too kind of a word for the way I felt about his intimidation tactics. But over the last half-dozen years before he recently passed away, I came to see Jay Ritchie in a very different light, a proud military vet and true patriot to be sure, but also a fun-loving, affable and kind-hearted volunteer who spent dozens of hours serving nonprofits like the Republican Women’s Club and the Retired Teachers Association.
Perhaps age mellowed him. Or, more likely, the lens of time and experience gave me a new perspective on the man he really was. Two months ago I actually found myself thanking him for putting a shy 12-year-old like me through the refiner’s fire, helping me confront the perpetual law of opposites by forcing me to do hard things that at the time I didn’t know I was capable of.
In a small way, that furnace of affliction burned off some of the dross that might have prevented me from pursuing the 24-carat life that all of us dream of and hope for.
Another 12-year-old, our beloved Michael Manteris, recently succumbed to leukemia. It would be tempting to conclude that he and his family “lost” their battle with cancer. But that would be extremely shortsighted. Losing isn’t in the Manteris family’s vocabulary. It’s never defined them, and it’s not what they’re about.
Did they know that Michael’s odds were long ones? Of course. Did Michael suffer along the way? Yes, he did. Does it hurt that he’s no longer with us? Absolutely, more than words can express. But Michael and his family did something for our community that nobody else had the power to do.
They understood the law of opposites and used it to turn lemons into lemonade. They helped launch bone marrow drives that have the capacity to help thousands of cancer victims. They heightened public awareness through media campaigns, nonprofit activism and local events. And most of all, they brought our community together in unity, prayer, faith and an unprecedented outpouring of love. They reminded us that we’re all God’s children in need of brotherly and sisterly kindness. And that “no man is an island,” as John Donne penned.
Rather, we’re all part of the main continent, in it together, and consequently everyone’s suffering or death, like every grain of sand washed out to sea, diminishes us.
I don’t know all the reasons why we need to taste the bitter to truly appreciate the sweet. Or why we have to start going blind before we stop taking our sight for granted. We wish it were otherwise. But it’s not. Murphy’s law, the law of opposites, or whatever you want to call their many variations and corollaries are alive and well, never sleeping, constantly at work in our lives.
Boulder City politics isn’t immune either. As mayor, I sometimes wish it were otherwise. But it’s not. There is, and always will be, opposition to the many good things that we as a community are trying to accomplish. In fact, it seems that misinformation, negative propaganda, venom-spewing incivility, obstructionism, predatory tactics and other forms of opposition always rise in direct proportion to the amount of good that the community as a whole is trying to accomplish. Opposition always counterbalances the number of healthy, productive steps we take in positive directions.
But that shouldn’t really surprise us. It’s just a manifestation of the law of opposites hard at work. Rest assured, though, that like the song from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” guarantees, “up from the ashes, grow the roses of success!” It’s always been that way. And it will ever be so.
Rod Woodbury is mayor of Boulder City. He has been serving on the City Council since 2011 and is the president and managing shareholder of his law firm, Woodbury Law.