When Heather sent me the Fourth of July picture, it shone brighter than any firework.
Heather had gone to her sister’s to enjoy a holiday get-together, while I stayed home with a headache. That meant that our Unwritten Family Protocol #23 was in effect: when one half of the couple is absent from a family event, the other shall send photos whenever possible. It keeps us both there in spirit. And it gives us endless opportunities to crack each other up.
I looked at my phone – and burst helplessly into admiring laughter. Heather looked like she had been mugged by a Hawaiian edition of the Lucky Charms leprechaun. Around her neck were a solid curtain of rainbow-colored leis, setting off the dazzle of her tie-dye shirt perfectly. Another array of multicolored hair decorations completed the ensemble, along with an over-the-top “Don’t you wish you had all this?” expression on her face.
She looked absolutely beautiful.
Heather’s colors were back. And nothing on earth could have been better medicine.
We’re an interesting pair. We have been for almost 21 years. (The big day comes later this month.) Of the two of us, I’m the “social introvert” – the one who makes phone calls, acts in plays, and generally knows how to break the ice without falling in. But I’m also the somewhat conventional one, the guy in slacks and a button-down who reminds our ward Missy not to keep the radio cranked too high.
Heather … well, she may be the quieter of the two of us when it comes to setting up a vet appointment or having to order pizza. But she’s also the more fearless – curious, challenging expectations, and completely unafraid of looking silly. (Does it surprise anyone that she was originally going to be a teacher someday?)
And when she’s on, she wants color. It might be a brilliantly patterned skirt, a tie-dye with Bob Ross on it … she even once carried a book bag that had butterfly patches from corner to corner. She can be more restrained when the event calls for it, and every bit as lovely, but she’s at her best when she can truly enjoy herself.
Which makes it really unfair that those moments can be so rare.
Heather has MS. And Crohn’s disease. And ankylosing spondylitis (which sends my spellcheck into a coma). And a host of allergies to a long list of foods and medicines. And … well, you get the idea.
We’re not sure whether to blame aliens, Rocky Flats, or a script writer who got addicted to movies-of-the-week. But the net result is that Heather’s batteries only allow so much, while her pain sensors allow much too much.
There are good days. Or hours. Or minutes. But she has to measure herself, conserve energy, rest often, pick her times.
In short, she often has to mute her colors.
And I know it drives her crazy.
It’s been an ongoing lesson for both of us – the kind that makes you grit your teeth and wish for the end of the school year, but a lesson all the same. One about endurance and patience and going through a lot of gray to get back to the colors again.
And especially, that it’s OK not to be OK with it.
Most of us are going through something we don’t want. You don’t need the list. You know the list, and which item belongs to you. And most of the time we find a way to deal as best we can.
But it’s OK to not like it. It’s OK to know it’s not fair. It’s OK to let yourself go sometimes and get upset about it, to refuse to be a passive piece on the board.
It’s OK to feel and not just be a shade of forgotten gray.
And when the better times come, it’s OK to enjoy it. To be a little wacky. To let your colors shine at last.
Rare things are precious. So treasure a rare joy when you can seize it. Maybe even take a silly picture or two.
The smile it creates just might be your own.