I grasped the gray hands of my parents. It was the day everyone my age would set aside their differences. Equality was celebrated. The line snaked for miles. All ten-year-olds took part in this ceremony. The Ceremony of Setting. For as far as I could see, colorful children danced around their gray parents. It was the day I would fade into gray too.
We got closer. Closer to the silver box. The silver box was brought out only on that day. The gold letters, in standard type, proudly labeled the box, “DIFFRENCES.” The box that had ended strife stood strong. The line moved quickly. It took a surprisingly small amount of time to shed everything that made you special. Even in their gray, the parents glowed as their children made the transformation. As quick as it moved, it seemed like forever, especially as we got closer. I could hardly wait. It was my turn.
My turn to join in the beauty of equality. Finally. I guess one of the differences I was about to place in this box was impatience. And another was curiosity.
It was my turn. I climbed the ladder leading to the box’s opening. But instead of turning to face the crowd of my newly gray peers, as was proper protocol, I glanced inside the box. Had anyone ever done this? Once I looked, and I didn’t even mean to look, I couldn’t tear my eyes away. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
A love of music glowed in purple. I wondered which now gray child it had belonged to. It was unlike anything I’d ever thought to appreciate. I wanted to reach out and touch it, but I was distracted by the other colors. Beside the purple song, there was a green soccer ball. It had a different smell than any I had experienced, and though I didn’t understand it, I liked it. It was dirty but fresh. It whispered of a competitive spirit.
I saw ugly things in the box. I knew they were hideous, though I had never before heard that word. Scars and bruises. Lies and shame and pain and hurt were in the box. Because, I guess, just like curiosity and wonder make us different, our pains make us unique too.
“Daughter.” My parent said. Standing on the edge of setting aside my differences, I felt sad. It was the last time my parent would call me that. I tried to break my focus from the kaleidoscope of colors and emotions held within the box. They, thoughts and adults, called to me. I was taking too long. I looked at the brown, all the pain. “This is right,” I reminded myself.
Just as I reached to strip myself of my affection for animals, a different color caught my eye. It was the same color I saw when they showed us the pictures of the past. The blood of the people who died to bring us equality. We were taught to respect those people with the red blood. I did. I really did.
But that red seemed to mean something different. Inside the silver box, the red formed a heart, still beating. The love we each hold makes us unique. But it wouldn’t fill up that much space in the box if it didn’t come from everyone. Everyone had the ability to love, they had to—didn’t they? But our loves made us different.
This wasn’t right. Love shouldn’t stay in the box because people are afraid of hate.
Surely those brave souls who died, who made the great changes for equality, would have wanted us to move beyond simply setting aside our differences. Wouldn’t they want us to embrace them? To delight in the things that make us different?
“Daughter.” I heard again, drawing me away from the dangerous thoughts. They reached to help me. They gently pulled off the obvious, their excitement still clear. They wiped off the sticky sweetness of the lollipop I had yesterday. They added to it the bruise from falling off the swing. I loved going too high, so that love for adventure went into the swirl of me as well. They took my book. My love for reading. I found myself helping them. I reached deep so that they could help me set aside my differences. My fears—they left me. It was a sweet relief to turn gray.
But I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t brave enough. I held my swirl of differences in my hands, ready to set it aside like those who had gone before me. But the red still glowed, still stirred me. The love hadn’t left me that long ago. Instead of slowly setting aside my differences, I took a step. I took another. I fell. They seized me, but I held on to my swirl of differences.
On my knees, I looked up. My gray eyes met those of the boy, former boy, who had been in line in front of me. The one who had just successfully completed setting aside his differences.
“Please.” I said, willing him to look at me. Really look at me. He paused. Everyone in the world seemed to still. Would he take them—my differences? Would he want to learn? Would he cherish the beauties that made my heart different from his?
What would these gray people do? The ones who fought so hard to set aside their differences? This was exactly the sort of strife, tension, and unease they’d worked to destroy.
Just as I was about to take my swirl and stuff it in the box with everyone else’s as to end this pain in my heart, the gray boy took my differences. Like petals of a rose, they opened up before him. I watched as he examined my love of laughter, my love of chocolate brownies, and my love for my little brother. He got to the deeper parts of me. I watched as he touched my hurt—the fear I was experiencing that very moment in giving myself away. He looked at me. It was the first time I’d been seen.
The whole world didn’t change that day. Change doesn’t happen in a day. But change has to start somewhere. One boy looked at me, and that is, I guess, the start of a change. They took me after he looked at me. They took the unfurled rose of my differences and placed it in the box. I am gray now. Gray, just like I had hoped to be. I’m like them. I’ve set aside my differences. But somehow, they forgot to—or maybe they could not—add the memory of being seen to the silver box. And somewhere out there, a gray boy walks around with the memory of me, also free from the silver box. Though it doesn’t show on the outside, my heart still glows. Red with love and yellow with hope, because I have been seen. And now, I can look. I can see.