The Red Door of Courage

My clients, Tim and Arlene, were like a lot of people who don’t spend their days immersed in color…a bit “color shy”… Hell! Who am I kidding!’ They were downright afraid of color! The outside of their house was painted white; the walls inside, off-white. Their furniture was beige. Their carpet…Well…what-a-you think? Add to this color shyness the fact that their house sat prominently on one of the busiest streets in a small town and you can understand why agreeing to his wife’s request to paint their front door red was a bold move for her color-modest husband, Timid Tim. When they hesitantly suggested the idea to me, I assured them this was a perfectly reasonable choice. I assured them that there’s a long-standing tradition of painting bright red front doors on houses just such as theirs–a white, two-story colonial-style house with black shutters. I also assured them I could walk them through the ordeal, hold their hand and help them choose just the right shade of red and calm their nerves when they got cold feet and were tempted to retreat back into the anonymity of a lifeless, world of white.

Meanwhile, Tim was facing a crisis at work. As the chief administrator for the town library, he was in the midst of budget negotiations with the town council. Years of deferred maintenance by his predecessors had come home to roost. And the lot had fallen to him to deliver the wake-up call that the library facilities were badly in need of repair… AND, because this work had been deferred so long, it was going to be even more expensive than they might have expected. Meanwhile, back at the house, Tim and Arlene had entrusted themselves to my care.

So I began preparing the entryway–removing layers of caked-on paint, sanding, repairing, priming. Tim walked to work. Every morning, he would come around the side of the house from the back door, briefcase and lunch bag in hand, and stop where I was working to chat for a few minutes before setting out on his way. “Tim,” I told him a couple of days into the job, “today is the day. As soon as I finish sanding and priming this door frame, I’ll be ready to apply the first coat of red paint on the door.” He didn’t say much. He smiled nervously, then wished me a good day. By the time he came home that evening, the door itself was well on its way toward being finished–sanded, primed, and neatly wrapped in the first layer of a shiny, new red coat. He stopped to look…then stepped back to take a more measured look. He paused, briefcase held firmly in his hand. His shoulders rising slowly to full stature, he then declared for all the world to hear (or at least the neighbors), “I have a red door!”

The next morning, I began applying the second coat of paint on the door. As usual, Tim lingered a moment to chat before making his way to work. He told me again how pleased he and his wife were with their red door. He went on to say that, in light of what lay before him today, it would be good to recollect his satisfaction with what had been, for both him and his wife, a bold gesture of high-gloss, fire-engine proportions. He went on to explain that this was the day he must stand before the town council and deliver the dreaded wake-up call. I commiserated with him over the difficulty of having to be the bearer of bad news. Then, as he was about to turn to go, I turned toward him and said, “Tim, when you step up to that podium to speak, you just raise your shoulders up to full stature, look them straight in the eye, and say to yourself, ‘I have a red door!’ ”