In Living Color

the12 editor Uncategorized 6 Comments

I fully intended to write a political screed today. Feed the outrage machine. Bait the clicks. Gin up controversy.

Hurricanes, earthquakes, mass shootings with assault weapons, the racial bias at the heart of the U.S. death penalty, the systemic racism of the school-to-prison pipeline, the relentless human trafficking industry, our President’s seeming inability to articulate a single sentence that coheres semantically, much less rings with moral clarity…choose your poison, there’s plenty to lament these days.

But I just don’t have the heart to do it.

I’m tired.

Instead, I watched puppy videos. And videos of kids doing silly things. And old people dancing with joy. Heartwarming stuff.

And then I got to this guy. William Reed–bodybuilder, husband, dad, all-around guy’s guy. He’s been color-blind his entire life, so his family bought him glasses for his birthday– glasses to let him see in color.

Hold on, this EXISTS? Am I the last person to hear about EnChroma?

The video is worth watching in its entirety, because over the course of five minutes we see Bill transformed–utterly transformed. The opening sequence is of the family singing “Happy Birthday,” and Bill mutters yeah, okay in that slightly-embarrassed-dad way. He’s clearly uncomfortable with the attention, but he’s putting up with it because, well, he loves his family.

There’s a lot of fumbling with the wrapping paper and teasing about how he’ll never guess what’s in the box. Just the normal, boring, everyday stuff of life.

And then, at 2 minutes and 47 seconds, he puts on the glasses.

The family is eager for his reaction and they press him. What colors do you see? But he’s stunned, a little disoriented. His hands hover near the frames, a momentary pause between life-before-color and life-with-color.

And then the most beautiful thing happens. This 66yo dude with a wicked walrus mustache turns into a child, a child overwhelmed by emotion.

His hands drop to the side and swing awkwardly. He wrings his hands, looks upward in a vain attempt to stop the tears, presses his lips together, finds hiding places for those revealing hands in his pockets before the hands escape again and clap clap! in childlike joy.

Then he experiments, as kids do: pushes the glasses down with one finger, then back up again. Sees the world in muddy brown, then color, then back to lifeless, then back to full-on glorious redgreenblueyellowindigopurpleorange. He has become a phenomenologist, exploring the wonder of his own existence. This crazy crazy world! Are you seeing what I’m seeing?! He sees the world anew, and the shock of this new reality both undoes him and remakes him, right before our eyes. You’re not in Kansas anymore, baby says a family member, and yeah, exactly. 

In an essay on “The Art of Fiction,” the novelist Henry James advises aspiring novelists to “try and catch the colour of life itself.” He’s frustratingly cagey about how one might do that–it turns out that even famous novelists have a hard time writing about writing–but one ringing line stands out:

“Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!”

Rather good life advice too, right?

So that’s what I’m going to do today–put on my glasses and look at the world in Technicolor.

And perhaps I’ll be born again. 

 

Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English literature and writing at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. 

Comments 6

  1. My wife has promised me a pair of these for Christmas (they’re kind of expensive because of the patent). Being color-blind is pretty easy to live with as disabilities go, and it has given me some experience of what more profoundly disabled people go through. When I made mistakes like saying the grass was red, my parents would say I was stupid. They acted like I should go back to kindergarten and learn the names of the colors. Art classes in school were torture. A lot of people don’t get that this is a physical thing. My maternal grandfather had it, and I inherited it. Please be kind to disabled people. It is not their fault.

    1. I should add a funny story. One year my doctor decided to do a color-blindness test as part of my physical. When I said I couldn’t see the number in the dots, he began to coach me, so I would get the “right” answer!

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