Observations on Colors

Three men shared the back of the bus with me. By their talk they seemed to be homeless, discussing where they’d encountered each other before: Workforce, the Millionair Club, various street corners. They were dressed for hard work, and looked like they had been doing it. They discussed the times: loss of jobs (one man was laid off from a position he’d held for 14 years, and was only hanging on thanks to the second job he’d had for much of that period) and a black president. Being black themselves, they expressed their continuing astonishment: “Never thought I’d live to see the day,” one said repeatedly, and the others agreed.

And then one of them said something which blew me away: “Maybe we’ll get another one.”

It really shouldn’t have astonished me so much. After all, the walls have theoretically fallen, yes? It’s now been clearly demonstrated that a mixed-race child of a single mother can grow up to be president. Obama is our first president of color: that means, surely, that there can now be more. But it’s a thought that had never before entered my mind. Had I already begun to think of Obama as our token president? Or is it just the case that we’re not thinking about the next one because we’re still grappling with the president we’ve got — and because those who hope to take power from him don’t seem likely to run a person of color as their contender?

I was tempted to enter the conversation myself, but I did not; instead, to sort of indicate my openness, I broke out my copy of Real Change. (For the non-Seattle readers, Real Change is the homeless newspaper in town, very focused on social justice, and sold by the poor and homeless on street corners around town. I buy two copies, one for me and one for my parents.) I thus flew my flag as a sympathetic ear. Two of the men got off before long, and silence fell.

As we were crossing Lake Washington, the remaining man tapped me on the knee and pointed to the western horizon. The sun was setting. It reached just under the rain clouds, setting the atmosphere on fire in startling shades of gold and purple. It was astonishingly lovely, and I said so. The two of us watched the sun until it slipped behind Captiol Hill and the Madison radio towers.

I glanced north, and now it was my turn to point something out to him: the sunlight still fell on the north lake, and so did the rain. A rainbow, colors as vibrant as the sunset, was arcing up out of the water. It had a faint double bow further north; and, as my eyes followed it, I saw it was a perfect bow, running the whole north-south length of the lake, from Juanita to Renton.

My friend and I sat in awe and spoke of our wonder to each other.

“This is why I never moved away,” he said, and I said it was the same with me.

He got off at Montlake, and clapped me on the arm as he did, saying, “Good talking to you, man.”

“You too,” I said, and I meant it.

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