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Purity. Light. White. I remember when I learned that white was not the absence of color, but the presence of all colors—as if you could take white and tilt it a little to make blue appear, or shake it so that red or green or yellow would float to the surface for a while. That white is actually a swirl of colors just waiting to be released. How odd it seems, then, that white can appear so blank sometimes. Were you, like me, tricked somehow into thinking that white was calm, serene, boring even? How could that be, with so much color going on beneath the surface? I like to imagine white as something teeming and alive. What other color is both searing hot and freezing cold? Life and death? Empty space and Holy Presence?
There is something to the fact that pure white light, illuminating and life-giving, contains all the colors of the spectrum.
There is something, too, about the process by which different colors rise to the surface at different times. Headed into fall, I always look forward to the leaves changing color. I think often of that one fall six years ago, when it struck me so strongly that trees would greet winter—and what looks like death—not quietly but in blazing red, orange, and gold. Especially red. I’m captivated by the thought that all those hues are inside each leaf all along, that the vibrancy is merely hidden by all the green, and only revealed when the chlorophyll leaks away.
Color hidden within color. Waiting. Things hidden then illuminated, seen only when you tilt an object, shake it, let something beautiful bleed out. It seems cruel sometimes, the way new colors rise up, and yet the new can be as beautiful as the old. And all of it is hidden within something as still and clear as white.
Many years ago, in a high school English class, the other students and I were assigned one of my favorite projects ever—to create and present to the class a symbol of ourselves. I made a folded paper box, plain and white on the outside, small enough to fit in my palm. On the inside, the box was full of color, every wall completely decorated. Suspended from the top was a tiny paper crane. From the outside the box didn’t really invite much attention, but if you took the time and effort there was a whole lot to see on the inside. Even then, though, you couldn’t get the whole picture. When the box was open the crane was no longer in its element, flying through the middle of all that color and life. You could imagine the complete picture, but you couldn’t actually see it.
It strikes me that most people in this world would see a little white box and not give a second thought to what might be inside. Even fewer would be tempted to open it. They may be perfectly nice, friendly people: “Nice box. I bet it’s cool inside. I’ve seen that kind of thing before.” But they will never peek inside. I don’t know why this is. Personally, I sometimes feel like I could spend the rest of my life just opening boxes and exploring their contents. Most, I’m convinced, want to be opened, whether they are beckoning or just sitting there.
I kept my little box for years, but after years of storage and being moved from place to place, I think it was eventually crushed and discarded. I’ve lost track of it, anyway. Here, in writing, I find it taking on a new form. To those of you reading—thank you for looking inside.
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