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The Emperess’s New Clothes

Deconstruction, Self-portrait in White, Steele Bridge c 2013

Yesterday I had an out of body experience.  It was amazing, really.  I must admit, I have a cloud of self-consciousness floating about as I write this, but I have committed to letting myself be seen so here it is.  First, a little background. When I was 10 years old, a student from Italy was transferred into our school.  She had just lived through a natural disaster and the teachers asked for donations of clothes.  I put a bunch of clothes into a hefty garbage bag and invited her to come over after school.  We ate Wise potato chips and drank Coke and though I really wanted to watch Dark Shadows, I searched the UF stations for Italian programs… I did not find one, but left it on a Spanish speaking station thinking it would be the same.  I had a great uncle in the garment district (New York) and my grandmother would take me shopping every year before school started to pick out some things from the show rooms.  The only piece of clothing I can remember from those days was a chiffon orange and white polka dot long sleeve blouse.  I was still pretty much a tomboy then, and didn’t wear frilly things, but my grandma insisted and so it was.  I remember wearing that shirt once and when a friend came over and said she liked it, I traded it for her shirt… which was not chiffon, nor frilly.  I remember my grandmother coming over that year and seeing that orange shirt on my friend and exclaimed, “you traded that shirt for a schemata!?” In Yiddish, that means…rag.  But I digress…  I have always had the pleasure of giving away my clothes to my friends or whoever, especially, because even as a young woman (and embarrassingly, not so young), my grandmother still took me clothing shopping, but now we were going to Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord and Taylor…  still buying me clothes (conservative, office-like clothing, hoping this would lead to me become a paralegal!) mixed in with the occasional funky pieces that even my sweet and fashionable grandmother liked.  Still to this day, I enjoy passing my clothes on to friends and stepdaughters… it makes me happy to see them enjoy something that was mine that I can share.

I have tried many times, shopping in second hand stores and can count on one hand how many times I purchased something to wear from them.  I felt the struggle… and the self-judgment… about how it was difficult for me to wear something that was somebody else’s… yet I had no problem being the one who gave the clothes.  This always bothered me in some way but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I wondered if I was spoiled or snooty… and thought about what it would be like if I didn’t have that choice. What if I had to wear someone else’s “hand me downs” – what if I couldn’t afford to buy my own clothing?  And, lo and behold… as in most cases of my life, the universe presents opportunities for me to learn and grow.  I have not been able to buy a whole lotta clothing, not really even a little… and yesterday, I spent the day playing and working with a friend.  We have been researching stores that might sell our artwork.  We walk from one to the other, surveying and asking questions.  Along the way, we pass by clothing stores, with the cutest clothes and bags, and shoes in the window… clothes that I know I can’t afford now. Sometimes we go in and peruse and I even try on something. I am tired of my clothing, that I love, but wear over and over again, and right or wrong, they get stale and I’m a woman and I like to wear something new, something fresh from time to time.  I told my friend how I have put a ban on buying clothing right now and as we were walking back to the car, she said, “I have bags of clothing that I was going to give to charity, you can go through them and see if there’s something you like.” 
And as I live more and am aware of miracles more, I knew this was one. It was not just about the clothing, it was much bigger than that. We went back to her house and she got the bags and in her dining room, we went through them together, and I tried on piece after piece, and it was as if I was watching myself from a corner in the house (like Andora from Bewitched!). Her generosity of heart  amazed me. I was always the one giving away my clothing. Ironically, the only other person who ever gave me her clothing was… yes, my grandmother.  However, my grandmother was petite and I was not, and could hardly wear anything, try as I might.  My friend’s clothes fit just right and they were just my style… and it touched my heart so… and she wrapped them in tissue paper and we laughed as she placed the garments in Nordstrom shoping bags.  There was much to learn from this exchange.  I am humbled and grateful and I am thrilled that I now know that joy of receiving in this way. I have a deeper understanding and compassion for those who cannot afford to buy brand new clothing or anything for that matter. And, I have a more grand appreciation for the value of love and kindness.
 I am writing this wearing my ‘new’ black funky shirt that is worth the world to me.