I seem to have inadvertently fallen in to some education about color. Not that I am averse in any way but it’s not something that I actively seek if for no other reason than I don’t need to. I have no particular feelings about color. I like green and orange. I tend to shy away from yellow or pink. What I find fascinating is how polarizing black and white are. How for a simple thing like a color, they can produce such dramatic feelings in people. How it can be so difficult to see it and avoid it at the same time. What makes one color better than another ? I think it comes down to this: it depends on who is looking.
I started reading The Book Thief a week ago. This has some color in it. The red and white of the Nazi flag. The bright yellow star that marked someone as a Jew. The bleak and ceaseless grey that becomes the color of everyone’s skin during war. The bright blue of hope and humanity. This book is told from the viewpoint of Death. Not death as an action but Death as a person, an entity, a living thing with thoughts and feelings and perspective. Interestingly, Death sees color in the things around him. Death sees souls in color. He does not discriminate when he takes a soul but he does see the humanity that still clings to it. He is in fact looking for what the person was. It colors how he takes the soul, how he treats it, how he records the story, and how he remembers the details of the day the person died. Death sees all of that. He catches glimpses of people who also see the colors. He sees their past, present and the time he will come for them.
At the other end of Death is Life. Last night I went to see The Help. This has colored how I see white. How I see myself and those of the same color. I would rather been green with orange spots than be like the white people in that movie who felt so clean and pure. No self-respecting rainbow would deign to sully themselves in giving those people color. They were muddy. They were unworthy of color. Now some were worthy – I shouldn’t paint them all with the same brush. Anyone who will stand up to others is worthy of the rainbow. Anyone who will lose love for what is right is worthy of the rainbow. They were the white that I would embrace. Those that felt that color defined how someone should be treated ? I hung my head in shame that we shared anything much less common skin. While I am not the most tolerant of people it is stupidity that I abhor. In any color, on any rainbow and I don’t need help seeing it. It blares in bright neon ugly colors.
I had a neighbour. This neighbour did not embrace the rainbow. This neighbour was muddy. I didn’t know this about my neighbour until one day we were gardening. Side by side we added color to his garden. Pretty oranges and yellows. Bright colors of life. Then this neighbour said something that chilled me. He thought I had made a derogatory comment about another race. He quietly leaned in and whispered, “You feel that way too?”. Hmmm, I thought, Whatever does he mean ? So I asked him. “I feel the same way about what ?”. At this point that muddy neighbour of mine tore the rainbow out of the sky leaving a gash and giving reason for the rain shower. He unleashed his inner magnifying glass and let me know how he had scoured our street looking for those that were “different”. He continued about how he had treated other colors on the rainbow and how they deserved it. I let him speak. I quietly asked questions. I needed to understand why this man who had just been adding beauty to the earth sought to remove others who also added color. So I asked him, “Why do you believe this?”. His response ? “My mother raised me that way.” How sad that a mother who could have raised a son to see the beauty in color chose instead to show him how to hate it. His kind of stupid was the worst of all.
So I prayed about this man. Not to forgive him. Not to save him. But to understand him and find a way to live beside him. To his credit, when I told the man I had prayed about him, he responded, “Somebody probably needs to.” Maybe was not completely without the possibility of seeing color after all. But it was not my job to change him. It was my job to protect my children as his mother had failed to do for him. So I was very direct with this man as I am wont to be. I advised the man that he was to keep from ripping apart the rainbow in front of my children. That they were not being raised to hate and judge based on someone’s gift from the rainbow. They were being raised to see the rainbow for what it was. A beautiful miracle of creation. An opportunity to paint their lives with any color they chose. To his credit he agreed. It would have been disappointing for him not to. I would have broiled him like an ant with a magnifying glass had he chosen otherwise.
In between Death and life is what makes up our existence. The in between. The stuff. The stories. The sweetness and the sour. The chance to be part of the rainbow. With my perspective changed from a book and a movie, I hope to broaden my brush. I hope to capture more color. I hope to be brave enough to stand up for what is right and smart enough to teach others. I plan to be one of the ones who is looking with eyes wide open at all that surrounds me and holds me. I plan to raise my children the same way. Color is not a choice we make. It is what life gives us. How we see that color is entirely up to our magnifying glass. Is it broad and accepting ? Or is it narrow and burning with ignorance ? Do we seize the opportunity to look for beauty or turn away from fear ? My life will be forever in search of opportunity to be all the colors I can be.