The Purple People

Originally written for Salvage Garden

Hang around Salvage Garden’s executive director Melissa Guthrie long enough and you will likely hear her make a statement about how everyone is valuable…including those who are purple.

Inclusion is an interesting thing—especially when we live in a society with so many different colors of people. We are all a little different. Some of us are red, some reddish-violet, others green, yellow, magenta with orange stripes, or lime green with a hint of teal and yes, even purple. We are all made up of a different mix of colors; it’s what makes us unique! And the result is beautiful.

The problem comes when green people don’t know how to interact with purple people, or red people spend all their time with the reddish-violet people because there is enough similarity there for comfort. Inclusion then is about having a full spectrum where everyone belongs because we all have our own unique colors and gifts—not because we contain one particular color.

This time last year, I never would have imagined working with people with any kind of disabilities. It’s not that I was against it or had a problem with it; it’s just that I didn’t think about it. It wasn’t on my radar. Which is part of the problem. I was so comfortable in my red world that I forgot to notice the blue on the margins.

I was led to the special needs community through art. I love art! It’s the way I have found to embody and express my own emotions. Which is precisely the reason that visual art and other forms of creative expression are popular in this community. For instance, people who may not have the words to express themselves adequately can find freedom in art. I can relate to individuals in this way: wanting to have a form of expression that isn’t reliant on words.

Now, I’m not going to lie; despite our common interest in communicating beyond words, the idea of working with people with special needs raised my heart rate a bit. I knew nothing! Would I know what to do? Would I just stand there and stare? Would I be able to be myself? Should I act a certain way? Not act a certain way? I didn’t know…And it made me nervous.

I was simply unaware. But by knowing that and admitting my ignorance, I was able to trust that the more I learned the more comfortable I would become. This was simultaneously true and not true at the same time because sometimes it is uncomfortable. Sometimes I—you, we—don’t know what to do when we are trying to reach out to a blue person if we are obviously red. But I’ve noticed that once I begin to look beyond the lines I’ve drawn for my own world, I’ve developed a certain kind of comfort with the uncomfortable. And if anything, it has taught me an appreciation for breaking the rules society makes us think we should follow.

Our society has this way of telling us what is acceptable and what is not. And that anything that does not meet the “normal” standards should be discouraged. This goes beyond those with disabilities. The list of things this could apply to could go on and on: race, sexuality, gender, age, introversion/extroversion, religion, occupation, economic status and fill-in-the-blank because I’m sure there are more.

purple people_croppedBy only spending time in our color swatch of the spectrum we are missing out on the beauty of so many other colors. We may be different, but we also may be more alike than we know. If you look closely at many paintings (Monet and Van Gogh for example) you will notice that the greens aren’t just greens; they have red in them, and what you think is white actually is made up of pinks and blues. We are all so diverse that trying to identify one of us by just one color is unfair; we are so much more than that. We all have gifts, dreams, and passions; all of which are loved and nurtured by God, our divine painter.

By expanding beyond the lines and confines of our world we are encountering freedom: freedom to encounter something different…freedom to explore and love freely no matter the colors (aka differences) we may see. There has been a lot of hurt over the lack of inclusion both in the church and outside of the church. But as was emphasized at the Faith Inclusion Conference, the church should be the first place to find all the colors of all God’s people in all our glorious uniqueness.

By embracing everybody, including the purple people, we are transforming pain and tears into freedom and redemption. And we are thus that much closer to being a divine piece of art.

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