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Bright Colours Make the World Happy

Half a year or so, my wife came home one day with a pair of shoes for me. This, in and of itself, is not particularly surprising. I loathe shopping and my wife has discovered that the best way to keep me looking presentable is to simply buy clothes for me, bring them home for me to try on, and then return the ones I don’t like. But on this day, her purchase was a bit surprising. It was a pair of bright red (non-returnable) New Balance runners. Like, really red. To the surprise of probably no one, I tend toward more muted fashion statements. I like greys and browns and blacks and dark blues. Bright colours are not really my thing. But there they were, these non-returnable bright red runners. 

Our house is currently a pile of boxes. We are moving into a new place in a few days, so we have been packing and sorting and (deliciously) getting rid of things for the past few weeks. The downside of a house full of boxes is that many of these boxes contain things like clothes. And virtually all of my shoes. So, on the first day of work this week, there was only one, lonely pair of shoes that presented themselves as an option for me: my bright red (non-returnable) New Balance runners. I don’t dress up too much for work at the best of times, but the spectacle of me decently dressed with my bright red runners drew no shortage of bemused looks and comments at meetings yesterday. Are those like reflective shoes for riding on the highway or something? Sigh.

This morning, I was off to a meeting of a very different sort. I was having coffee with a friend who is walking through a dark valley, trying to process the deep and abiding pain of the loss of a child. I walked out of the house all in black—black shirt, dark jeans, black rain jacket, black hat pulled tight over my ears to keep out the freezing, slushy rain that has appeared far too early this fall. I don’t think I chose this ensemble deliberately, but it seemed appropriate as I got out of the car.   Black for the hurt, black for the sadness, black to acknowledge the gaping hole.

And then I looked at my feet. There they were, as bright and red and non-returnable as ever. How silly, I thought. I felt like an upside down misshapen popsicle or something with my bright red feet, shining like obstinate beacons. Luckily, coffee shops have tables for putting feet under, and our conversation proceeded with my bright red shoes mercifully out of sight. We talked about grief and hope, memory and absence. We talked about stories and faces and places and time. Sometimes we didn’t talk at all, because words aren’t always (or even often) up to the task of dealing with things as awful as the death of a child.

We also talked about joy. We talked about goodness, both of its possibility here in the present and the rumours of it on a distant unseen horizon. I marveled at my friend’s unshakeable conviction that good things can and will come even from the most wrenching of losses.

I looked down at my bright red feet again and a string of worn out clichés began queuing up in my brain to interpret the symbolism. Yes, there’s a silver lining for every dark cloud, a rainbow of colour after the dark, black storm… Yes, there’s hope even in the darkness…Yes, life can grow when a small seed falls to the ground… Yes, Easter Sunday always emerges after Good Friday… But these clichés all seemed boring or trite or inappropriate or somehow unable to incorporate either the depth of my friend’s pain or the determined fervour of his hope. And yet, how I needed these boring clichés, this unimaginative interpretation of my bright red shoes sticking out under all the blackness!

When my daughter was younger, she would draw the most outlandish and incongruously colourful pictures. The sky was green, the ground was orange, the animals were brilliant yellows and blues and pinks. Wow, that’s a colourful picture! I would unimaginatively say when she presented me with one of her creations. And she would often respond with something like, Well, dad, don’t you know that bright colours make the world happy?

Yes, perhaps they do, my dear. Or, if happiness should ever be beyond us at present, if the valleys are too deep and dark and the horizons of joy too far off, they at least make it bearable. They always point, these bright colours—like obstinate beacons!—to the joy that made us and to the joy that will welcome us home.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. mike #

    Hey man, I think I could get some serious coin for those kicks down here in the States.

    September 10, 2014
  2. Paul Johnston #

    When the time comes, it will be heartwarming to know that our departed children are radiantly and eternally joyful, in the presence of God. As devastating as these separations are an eternal reunion awaits all those able to carry this cross. As community we “carry” for our friends, through our presence and our prayers, until such time as they are ready to shoulder the load themselves.

    September 12, 2014
    • Amen.

      September 14, 2014
    • mike #

      “”Be patient with all that is unresolved in your heart. And try to love the questions themselves. Do not seek for the answers that cannot be given. For you wouldn’t be able to live with them. And the point is to live everything, live the questions now, and perhaps without knowing it, you will live along some day into the answers.” (Rilke)

      September 14, 2014
      • Great quote from Rilke.

        September 15, 2014
  3. mmartha #

    A very nice article.
    And a nice quote from Rilke. Rabbis and I believe Socrates have said the question is a fruitful source or half the answer to the question. I don’t have the exact quotations.

    September 15, 2014
    • Thank you kindly.

      September 15, 2014

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