So Many Shades of Gray
The kind of person that I find the hardest to feel comfortable around, is a person who sees life, and its myriad of conditions, in terms of black and white. Most people know-I hope that I am not being impertinent-seem to see life as I do, in various shades of gray. Oh, there are so many shades of gray.
Take words, for example, and doesn’t that surprise you? As a language arts teacher, one concept that I taught in conjunction with writing, was that of seeing how words with the same meaning, have such different connotations. I did specific language activities with the students, to teach them how to recognize the importance of zeroing in on the best word for any given situation.
Thus, for them, I would begin by showing a picture of a dog, surely a candidate for the local ugly-dog show, and a “breed” not found in any of the books dealing with pedigree.
“What is it?” I’d ask, and jot the words on the over-head projector, so that they were clearly legible in big letters behind me. I waited until I had listed dog, perro (middle school humor), mutt, bowser, pet, Fido, mammal, quadruped, puppy, doggie, and all other offerings.
I zeroed in on the two I had wanted in the first place and drew a circle around “dog” and “mutt,” and asked, “What’s up with this?” I didn’t ask them, “What is the difference?” That would have been too easy. I just asked them to look at the two words, and tell me what they were thinking. Immediately, a hand shot up, and I waited. I got another, and then a bunch. I selected a hand, based on the anticipated response.
“They’re both the same,” said Billy, smugly. I had expected as much.
“Thank you. Sally?” I checked in with an ambitious young gal, who was lucky to have that quality, because there were some other significant omissions in her portfolio. “My mom would say dog, but Daddy would say mutt.” That was the idea, now for Roger to articulate it.
“Dog is what you think if you are happy with your pet, and mutt is what you mutter, when you have the soapy water and cleaning rag in your hands.” Bingo. Though we all know that what he really meant was, “What kind of mutt does a doodie in the house?”
Here’s an easy one. What’s the difference between a father and a dad? Well, a dad is always a father, but a father is not always a dad. A father clothes and feeds his sons; a dad teaches them how to play baseball, or in my case, after I blew out the ACL on my left knee, the card game of bridge. If you know anything about bridge, then you may want to know that Casey was seven, Ben six, and Lito four, when we played our first rounds of bridge. It was challenging for four-year-old hands, which are not big enough to glom onto a handful of cards, not to mention the intricacies of the bidding auction. But it’s what dads do.
So I choose my words carefully because, as the Bee Gees sang in 1967, “It’s only words, but words are all I have...” to portray shades of gray. In life nothing is quite as well-defined as we might like, so we have to paint our own canvases. We can enrich them and suffuse them with color and vibrancy.
But with words, I have to be more creative, because words don’t come in color, only shades of gray. So as I prepare my canvas for my daily offering, I try to make sure that my brush is aligned with my mind, and the strokes portray my thoughts precisely, so that the reader can fill in his or her own color highlights from an individual perspective, as the words settle into place on the canvas that exists in each person’s mind.
The words are black, the canvas is white, and the views I express are going to appear in various shades of gray; and there are so many shades of gray.