We’re doing a bit of painting at our house and I have had a revelation. I am not color blind, but I am color obtuse. One of my brothers is a professional painter. One of my sisters is a high priestess of home decorating. I said I wanted gray for the living room. I pointed at a color in the paint sample fan deck that my sister provided. (No need to go to the paint store and pick up color cards, she has her own fan deck always at the ready). I thought that pretty much settled things. I soon learned that was not the case.
Though she worded her question politely, it was clear from the surprise in my sister’s voice that my choice was not quite on point.
“Well, that one has quite a bit of green in it. I’ll hold it next to the couch. See? Do you think that’s the color you want?”
In truth, I couldn’t really see the green undertones in that choice, or the blue undertones in the other one, or the purple in another. Holding the sample up to the couch, or the fireplace, or the wall did not help me any either. Something that my sister and my brother could see so clearly was simply not apparent to me. They both patiently tried to educate me on the many shades of gray, but clearly were at a loss when my willingness to learn could not overcome the near complete lack of color sense with which I was born. After several more stabs at picking the color, and responses that gently indicated I was still missing the mark, I randomly hit on one that I liked which passed muster with regard to any ill-advised undertones.
The living room is painted now and looks quite nice. However, the process of picking out the right shade of gray started me thinking about how often we simply cannot see what is so clear to others. It’s not just color palettes to which we respond with the limitations of our particular perceptions.
I am prone to quick judgments and practical answers. Less inclined to nuance and philosophical rumination. “If a tree falls in the forest with no ears to hear does it make a sound?” Yes. Next question. But for some people that is an engrossing metaphysical query, one which they respond to with thoughtful consideration. I’m aware, but often need reminding, that there are different ways of looking at the world, shaped by our ability to perceive the layers that lie beneath the surface of a person, or a situation, or a set of facts.
Thanks to my siblings’ ability to see things that I cannot, I now have a color on the walls that—as they predicted—makes the white woodwork “pop” and picks up subtle hues in the fireplace tile. And I have a reminder that in life and in decorating, what lies beneath is as important as what’s on the surface—even if I can’t see it without help. Still, though, the question remains. How can there possibly be so many shades of gray paint?