I went to see the movie The Secret Life of Bees week before last. I read the book this past summer. I thought that the movie did a pretty good job of telling the story. It’s a story set in South Carolina in the 1960s about a young girl, Lily, who runs away from her abusive father who has raised her since her mother died when Lily was very young. Lily and her black friend/housekeeper run away and end up staying with three black sisters, May, June, and August, who are beekeepers. The story contains powerful messages about racism and healing. But the one passage from the book that stuck with me, although including in the movie, was poorly interpreted I felt. It’s a conversation between August and Lily about how August’s house was painted bright pink because of May. May’s twin sister died when they were young, and she has been “different” ever since, personally feeling the weight of anything bad that happens in the world. Here it is:
We walked to the woods beside the pink house with her stories still pulled soft around our shoulders. I could feel them touching me in places, like an actual shawl.
“There is one thing I don’t get,” I said.
“How come if your favorite color is blue, you painted your house so pink?”
She laughed. “That was May’s doing. She was with me the day I went to the paint store to pick out the color. I had a nice tan color in mind, but May latched on to this sample called Caribbean Pink. She said it made her feel like dancing a Spanish flamenco. I thought, ‘Well, this is the tackiest color I’ve ever seen, and we’ll have half the town talking about us, but if it can lift May’s heart like that I guess she ought to live inside it.'”
“All this time I just figured you liked pink,” I said.
She laughed again. “You know, some things don’t matter that much, Lily. Like the color of a house. How big is that in the overall scheme of life? But lifting a person’s heart–now that matters. The whole problem with people is–“
“They don’t know what matters and what doesn’t,” I said, filling in her sentence and feeling proud of myself for doing so.
“I was gonna say, The problem is they know what matters, but they don’t choose it. You know how hard that is, Lily? I love May, but it was still so hard to choose Caribbean Pink. The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters.”