Whose Clothes do You Wear?

I’m sitting here at the kitchen table. Outside an October rain is coming down in torrents, and I’m reminded of an observation I made about myself years ago. I once said in a journal that I rarely wrote about what happened to me but rather what happened in me. I remember thinking that if someone in the future tried to piece my life together by my journal entries they would find it difficult. However, a person would be able to see a pattern of internal changes and growth.

Through my journals, I can see a spiritual journey and whether we want to believe it about ourselves or not, we are all on a spiritual journey. A part of being on that journey is discovering truth about oneself, true truth, not what the people around you say. My daddy used to say, “People say a lot of things about William Henry.” Then he would get a soft sad look in his eyes and, for a moment, press his lips together in quiet determination, “It don’t matter what people say about him, it only matters what God says about him.” My dad gave me an understanding that has shaped my life, possibly more than any other single revelation.

Everybody has his or her own version of reality and they will try to force you into that version, which may not be what’s best for your spiritual journey and if they are trying to force and manipulate, it’s not best for theirs either. They just don’t know it at the time. Some people may say, “Yes, but this is a good thing.” A good thing is not necessarily a God thing, meaning that just because somebody suggests something or wants you to fulfill a certain role, does not make it right for your life.

In a way, life is like women on a shopping trip. They often travel in pairs, packs or trios. One of the ladies looks at an outfit. She likes the colors, but she knows inside herself that the attire is not for her, so she starts to hang it back but her friends tell her that it’s in style and that it will flatter her figure. They talk her into buying it, because they all like it; they think it suits her. She gets home, wears it once and feels uncomfortable all day. She hangs it in the closet and it remains there until it goes out of style; she ends up selling it at a consignment shop or donating it to charity. She wasted her money on somebody else’s version of what fit her best when she should’ve listened to her own instinct and been true to herself. In life, many people do this. We listen to what others think will “suit” us. Sadly, others don’t always know what suits themselves; much less what suits someone else.

I once had an acquaintance walk up to me and say, “I’ve got an outfit and some shoes to give you. They were my daughters.” I responded with a thank you and pulled the outfit out of the bag. It was ugly. It was the boldest, brightest thing I’d ever seen made of cloth and the shoes were totally not me. In addition, the clothes were five sizes too big and the shoes were three sizes too big, but she was certain these things would “fit” me and “suit” me. She stood there going on and on about how good I would look in them.

I was flabbergasted. Had she not noticed that I was smaller than that? Had she not noticed that I never wore flashy things like that? Internally, I reminded myself that her intentions were probably good, so I said, “Thank you, but I’m sorry. These won’t fit me.” At first she acted a little shocked. Then she said, “Well, can’t you just take them anyway and give them to somebody else?” And I got a little angry. She wasn’t looking out for me at all. She was just looking for a convenient and guiltless way to get rid of her daughter’s old clothes. I put them back in the bag and handed it to her, “Take them to Good Will.”  That lady’s gift was like a lot of things that people try to push on us in life, it was convenient for her agenda and she wasn’t thinking about weighting me down with the unnecessary baggage of something I couldn’t use.  She just wanted to dump her baggage on me and be on her way.

In the same way, people often try to ascribe things to us, project things on us that are not true of us and if we believe them we will find ourselves living someone else’s reality. I think it takes courage to say, “This doesn’t fit me.” There is a freedom we find in the things we leave behind.

October Friday

Janie’s got cancer

won’t live long.

She’s maybe fifty.

I hold her hand

tell her be brave

sing to her.

At work

they fuss over

papers, binders,

reports, phone calls,

bus passes and why

haven’t I finished

that massive mural?

It shouldn’t take

long, just snap

out a masterpiece

already. Outside

clouds have turned

autumn and maybe

I have, too.

If I were Janie

would they hold

my hand? Walk

to the edge of life

with me? Deadlines

are for the living.

I think I am part

crow because all

I want to do

is fly.