The Man in Gray

When I was five, we built a new house, just 20 yards in front of the house in which my father was raised. Eventually, it would get torn down – some family friends tore it down in exchange for the wood, but for a few months, we lived sort of in both of them, as we slowly moved things from one house to the other.

I had watched them build it – we basically paid someone to dry it in, and then we completed the inside ourselves. I say we, like I played a part, but believe that 5-year-old me was always in the middle of whatever was going on. And Mom and I would walk around the house, being built, and she would tell me that this was the kitchen and that was the bathroom. And this one? This is your room.

And when we get moved in, we will paint it whatever color you want.

I told her I wanted it painted red. You see, red was my favorite color. But we ended up compromising. Instead of the whole room, my bed frame was painted red, Dad painted the door to my room red, and I had red pajamas and red sheets. If it stood still long enough, it ended up red.

But somewhere along the way, I shifted, and suddenly, my favorite color was now blue.

Blue is a good color – non-controversial and can be professional or fun, can be the color of swim trunks or a tuxedo, and, perhaps most importantly, somewhere around the age of 14 or so, a girl told me that blue accentuates my eyes. I had no idea what that meant, exactly, but she seemed to think it was a positive thing.

I wore blue almost exclusively through my twenties. Blue suits. Blue shirts. Blue accents in my ties and show hankies. I owned three different blue cars.

But increasingly, blue didn’t make sense. It felt way too festive, too bright, too colorful. The best way I can think of to describe it is that when I wore blue, my insides didn’t match my outsides. And in my mid 30’s, as I began to become more and more aware of the pain in the world, I started to wear more muted tones.

And one day, I woke up and realized that I was now the sort of person who not only didn’t wear bright colors – I was known as someone who wore gray.

This week I was at the courthouse, wearing a black polo shirt and khakis. A colleague said I looked dressed up, as he rarely ever saw me not wearing a gray t-shirt. I just checked, and I actually own 9 gray t-shirts, and three different shades of gray are represented in the drawer.

The people who bought our house in North Carolina are bright color people. When they walked through, they remarked that they had never lived in a gray house before. I informed them it was a bright gray, though. They laughed nervously.

It’s not that I don’t like bright colors – I do. They just don’t feel right when I’m wearing them. They are no longer me. In a world that’s gone crazy, it feels almost crass to wear bright colors. Like I’m not paying attention to the despair and pain around me. Like having Harlequin perform your funeral – it feels disrespectful, somehow.

Johnny Cash famously sang that he wore black because:

I’d love to wear a rainbow every day

And tell the world that everything’s okay

But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back

‘Til things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.

I still own some blue shirts – if I preach at your funeral or wedding, I will probably wear one, because it’s more muted than white, and there aren’t a lot of other good options. But it’s always brighter than I feel.

Until things are better, I guess I’ll be the man in gray.

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