I wistfully gaze at a case of jitters – bitten finger nails, they come and go as raggedy registration of my nervous system. But then I brighten at the sight of my granddaughter Elodie’s handiwork. She tied and knotted multicolored threads around my liver-spotted wrist during another lifetime. That would be this past December. Sigh –
The bracelet is a withered beauty now and will decorate me until it dissolves at which time I’ll sign up for another or perhaps I’ll take a turn and french braid her halo. I’ll catch my breath with the closeness of the process – her luxurious 10 year old locks in my hands…. her wiry little body up next to mine. Life giving.
Not that I can offer any research to back up the value of humans decorating humans, but I feel it in my bones that such acts of honorarium go back to time in memoriam. Is not the tribal yearning to distinguish ourselves a cellular one?
And how else can we get these rituals done but through the caring efforts of our beloveds….the washing, the braiding, the nail grooming, the tattooing, the piercing and the artful covering?
The unfettered joy of presenting myself to the last 24,090 days came about in just that way. My elders shopped, hemmed and brushed me into a mental health sacrament of sorts. The process was not unlike a baptism leading to new life.
Early on, I was taken in hand with a plan for embellishment. I would come to know the cultural ceremony; the hunt for the store bought or the implement search for the handmade – pattern, fabric and notions.
The object of the game? We would craft a personal interpretation of armor. Just for me. Often special accoutrements – shoes, bags, jewels etc. – were included.
The ventures were never too serious, but there was just enough hullabaloo to safe guard a tiny mind as it moved through the ego-centric onto the full measure of an adult without guile.
The purpose of dressing was devoid of braggadocio; more to gain vibrancy in the name of let’s put our best foot forward. Delight was in the fancy process – an activity which could place the day into the extra-ordinary category. No doubt in times past the same reasoning encouraged ingenuity of dress for religious ceremonies. It’s in the spirit of the day!
Of course we all misstep regardless of the costume, but in the dressing from the get-go our intentions for a better self are called-out, like a prayer…..garb as a voucher for devotional purpose and love of life.
Late to this realization but certainly I now understand that the women in my family: grandmothers, great aunt and mother never said I love you. Plain verbiage seemed too ineffectual for their practical natures. They put focus, a trip to town, a needle and a saved-up dollar to it instead.
One summer while in Yazoo City, my grandmother escorted me to Mr. Miller’s where she bought a different colored poplin for each day of the week. The magical bolts trailed her quick steps to the cutting board. Each morning she snipped and whirred to compose a sundress to decorate her namesake for our adventures ‘round town.
I remember countless early mornings at home too when I opened a sleepy eye to see the completed version of a much discussed pattern on the back of my closet door. My bleary-eyed mother had sacrificed in order that I might suit up for the day in style.
In this way I learned that I was worthy and that time should be taken in the interest of a daily devotional called dressing. Pema Chodron says, “every act counts – each moment is an opportunity to make a fresh start.”
Even now I find myself donning color and pattern with an appreciation as never before – I embrace the lyrics “you’re never fully dressed without a smile” and realize that my trusty feet are worth propping as regally as possible.
A surprise from the quarantine came after a day or two in my pajamas when I wilted like an irretrievable flower. I took up the floral mantle of my elders and resumed daily dress not for you, but for the mind of God that shines deep within.
If it’s not a lesson you were given in your youth, you can create it for yourself at any age and recommit to life. As my encouraging father said in a letter to my college self:
“Remember Mattie, Ida Mae, and Essie Buckles? Were they not good ole girls? Hold on to your principal, no matter what school he operates. Wear your bodice high and look toward heaven always – except when backing. Sally forth to do your proclivities whether you have papers or no.”
Oddly, this particular proclivity of dressing has given me more muster than volumes of dated academics – a fountain of zest for zipping through my earthly duties. Discovery reveals that it can cost very little but your time, and payback is the start of a good story.
Please join me in permitting yourself the escapade of gussying up. Only you can equip yourself for such daring.