I recently had a conversation with a shy teen girl I know – a family friend. She and her dad were in the process of re-painting her bedroom. It had been a light teal blue color, but now that she’s 14, she wants something more mature. I asked her about the colors she chose, including the names of the paints.
I’ve always enjoyed looking at paint chips and admiring the names of them at Lowe’s. The paint section is a patch of colorful creativity where I feel at home among an overwhelming vastness of stainless steel, wooden 2x4s, and white PVC pipe. I never pick a paint unless the name speaks to me as well as the hue.
The teenager told me her walls would be Fog/a medium shade of gray; her ceiling, Pegasus/a bright white; and her trim, best of all, Zombie/almost black. The names of paint do not get any cooler than this combination! This brief chat set my mind in so many crazy directions as I imagined a fairytale woven from this pallet. A Zombie riding his winged Pegasus through a soup-like Fog toward the Apocalypse. (I’m fascinated by Zombies, as shown previously here.)
This interaction also got me thinking a lot about how much I’ve grown to prefer neutrals myself. Especially in my middle age. Gray is becoming my favorite color in addition to pink, aqua blue, sometimes yellow. But nowadays, I’m definitely tending toward gray. Or is it grey? I’m never sure.
It might sound drab and maybe even a little sad that I have fallen in love with gray. Research shows that people who suffer from anxiety (Guilty!) or depression are drawn to gray. But don’t shed a tear for me. I’m actually doing quite well in this great gray stage of my life — a chapter I call my “Mid-Life Chaos” (not a Crisis), a continuously busy time. Yet, amid the blur, I make rest a priority so I can keep up the steady pace of single parenthood.
Every wall in my renovated circa 1900 home is painted Worldly Gray by Sherwin-Williams. When we moved into this house back in June 2019, The Precious Pair asked me about painting their rooms. And as much as I enjoy browsing the paint department, I am simply horrible at painting walls. The idea of it made me cringe, so I struck a deal with them. Let’s live in the house for a while and just see how we feel about these walls. Now, a year later, I can say all of us are quite content with them. They provide the perfect clean slate for adding pops of pizzazz throughout the home. My own room? The color scheme is gray and white with blushes of pink. My perfect girly girl sanctuary.
I especially love being tucked away upstairs in my room when the weather is damp and dreary and a fog has rolled in. Nature’s version of gray. As long as you’re not driving in it, there’s little to fear about the fog. It’s a rare, quiet, peaceful weather state where you should just stay put, stay home, stay off the road, and take a nap – one of my favorite things to do. A fog is cool and comfortable – the perfect condition for burrowing in my favorite fuzzy blanket I keep at the foot of my bed, the one I drag along with me to hotels. My adulthood version of a “blankie.” It is, you guessed it, gray.
Yep, give me a foggy day and I’ll give you a couch potato, lazing around with Netflix humming on the TV, probably some ridiculous teen drama series that has its clutches in me. Something like Riverdale or Glee or Cobra Kai. I’ll order Panera. Most likely soup. Probably with one of those sprouted grain rolls. (Try that instead of the default baguette!) Hopefully, my two dogs will catch on. It’s not a day for their shenanigans. Hopefully, they got the memo about Lazy Fog Day. Lazy requires canine cooperation.
As I explore my newfound appreciation for drabness, it all lines up. In my 40s especially, I’ve come to realize there’s far less black and white in this world than I ever realized before. Rather, there’s an abundance of gray. So much uncertainty in our days. So few clear-cut answers. Especially in 2020, more so than any year in my life thus far. I know it’s the same for many of you.
Remember for a minute when you would go to the doctor as a child. For me, I believed that simply going to his office made me better, as if the visit itself would heal me. In adulthood, one learns that’s certainly not the case. Doctors are doing their best, just like the rest of us. Asking questions, guessing, wondering, problem-solving. There’s a lot of uncertainty to what they do. It’s science, yet foggy. As in the case of “Yes, you likely have a concussion, probably,” OR “You’ve lost your taste again? That could continue to happen off and on for the rest of your life, after having COVID. Maybe.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for our health care heroes! I’ve enjoyed the privilege of their care quite a bit lately. They often work in grayness, and that takes incredible persistence and patience. Toss in a pandemic and their version of daily gray deepens like never before.
Another example of what gray life looks like is a teenager contemplating college and career. My oldest is a high school sophomore. She’s often thinking aloud about where she wants to go and what she wants to do with her life. Like most of us, regardless of age, she’s torn over her choices. She knows she likes kids, she’s strong in her faith, and she loves thrifting and Mother Earth. That leads her to consider teaching, the ministry, and sustainable fashion design. Quite a range with benefits and challenges to each of these paths, including economic considerations.
But who am I to question her? When I was a teen, I told a family member I wanted to be a high school English teacher. The reaction was not supportive – “Well, you won’t make any money doing that!” That advice stuck with me, and I chose to pursue public relations instead. I spent my first 10 years working in charities and the last 18, with a nonprofit financial institution.
Luckily, my shift in career plans worked out, and I love what I do for a living, but I’m certainly not rolling in the dough. I live in a financial state of gray. Having enough to pay for most of what I want to buy and do, while also struggling with the debt load I carry, for various reasons. But I will not encourage my daughters to allow the earning side of their career choices to sway them considerably. As I tell them, no one really has all the money they want. All the middle-income families I know live in a similar zone where, God willing, we have what we need, yet we’d happily take more. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Living gray, one learns to accept a feeling of contentment and stops seeking more and better everything. Inevitably, there are struggles. There are illnesses and injuries. There are unexpected expenses. There are conflicts. There are hard decisions to make. There are choices that will alter the course of our lives. There are no weather maps showing us a personalized forecast that warns us of the foggy patches ahead.
With Halloween coming this weekend, many people will set up machines to manufacture fog on their porches and in their driveways. The idea is to create a mysterious and haunting vibe that makes the trick-or-treaters wonder what’s lurking. It could be a zombie, a werewolf, a ghoul, or countless other creepers. Most likely it’s just the creator of the fog himself – the suburban dad with the candy bowl. He’s probably eaten all the Reese’s by the time you find him.
Then there’s another holiday, where a thick fog produces a different type of ghost: The Grim Reaper representing Ebeneezer Scrooge’s “Christmas Future.” That part of the famous tale is always good and spooky in any film or live production I’ve seen of it – eek!
But why is the fog always portrayed as a source of negativity? After all, it’s a patch of beautiful grayness. True, you can’t see through it and you don’t know what’s coming. But isn’t it precisely the unknown that becomes so much of the greatness in our lives? Things, events, people. The lovely gift you didn’t expect. The awesome day that fell together effortlessly. The amazing man or woman you didn’t plan to meet.
My fog isn’t frightful or ominous. There are rainbows, bunnies, and patches of candy flowers hidden in there! A Skittles Moment. You just have to wait for the fog to clear away to enjoy all the colors inside. Until the gray rolls back in again…
When we learn to appreciate the in-between and unexciting shades of life, we can discover a truth and a strength that’s pure, calming, and quite comfy. We renew ourselves in these neutral moments. If you’re like me, you might even get to know yourself best while you’re resting in them. Not thinking about what’s ahead and what’s behind you, but truly enjoying the subtlety of your current state and surroundings.
Try it. You might decide you have a new favorite color, too.
“To be a great fighter, you got to learn to adapt…life’s not black and white. More often than not, it’s gray.” – Johnny Keene, Sensei at Cobra Kai Dojo, Season 2 of “Cobra Kai”
Katie Moum via Unsplash; http://www.finaldraftstudios.com; Instagram.com/katherinemoum