Because life is a series of edits

Retail Therapy

In Holidays, Places & Spaces on August 3, 2008 at 2:00 am

In honor of Missouri's sales tax "holiday", I actually looked at – lo, even tried on – hangers full of "upscale resale clothing and accessories" this weekend at both locations of St. Louis' Scholar Shop (caution: clever homepage, though a bit naked).

After a family trip Friday night to the first store (in which Megan took full advantage of the 75% off sale), I made not one but two trips to the second store today, replenishing my wardrobe for the next decade for next to nothing.

Three trips in 24 hours, two of them on my own? Megan says I'm turning metrosexual.

Despite the great sales, my foray into shopping reassured me that I need not worry about becoming dependent on "retail therapy" to deal with life's problems. The reason is simple: the older I get, the less I like the way I look in clothes. Of course, the alternative is not really an option (I consider it a public service that I'm not a nudist), but it explains why I go shopping only once every ten years (that and I'm cheap).

I've lived most of my life not really caring what the mirror or anyone else thought of how I dressed or how I looked. And, while I wouldn't say any mid-life crisis is just around the corner (mine actually came early – at 30 – so it's nice to have it out of the way), I am more aware these days than I've ever been of what I do (and don't) look like in person, and I don't enjoy noticing myself noticing myself.

Maybe it's because I'm back in the world of high school – where it's almost a badge of honor to be preoccupied with one's appearance – that makes me think about this. Maybe being a teacher and around teenagers reminds me how much older than my students I really am. After all, at 37, I am approaching (if I haven't made it already) the "I could be their father" plateau, which is strange to me.

Maybe it's because I see and feel the effects of age on my body – the occasional soreness, the greater difficulty to maintain and drop weight – more than I did when I was younger. While I've never had great posture, my hunch seems more pronounced than I remember it being. I don't recall ever thinking of myself as a particularly "big" guy, but it seems I've become one (or at least one a whole lot bigger than the guy in my mind's eye when I visualize myself), and it bothers me.

All these thoughts were jumping around in my head today as I waited in line behind too many men and women in their late-40s and early-50s who've put themselves through more desperate measures than I'm willing to in order to fight off age – men trying too hard to look "cool" with their gold chains and spiked (and colored) hair; women with too much make-up and jewelry for a Saturday trying to find that one resale item that will make them look younger (or at least not older) than they really are.

But then, God used one woman to bring me back to a semblance of perspective. Probably in her mid-50s, this sweet lady had obviously suffered great disfigurement in a fire many years ago: her face, shoulders, and legs (she was wearing a tank top and shorts) were a patchwork of skin grafts from other parts of her body; she had no ears to speak of (just holes going into her head), and her eyes, nose, and mouth all appeared crooked due to the flames having horribly reshaped them.

Ironically, she was at the store both times I was (about four hours apart), probably because God wanted to ensure I didn't miss seeing her, just ahead of me in the line waiting for a dressing room, turn to a full-size mirror on the wall, hold up a pretty floral dress, and smile at what she saw. She didn't look around to see if anyone was watching; she didn't try to hide her face or her arms or her legs and somehow still get a peek at the dress; she didn't give off even a hint that she thought what she was doing was silly in light of her looks.

She just stood there and smiled back at herself – a beautiful, honest expression from a fellow human being so secure in something other than her appearance. And I – in all my aging, sore, Shamu-like, hunchbacked bigness – got to see it, and it was the best and truest "retail therapy" I could ever have hoped for, tax-free and all.

"And he (Jesus) said to his disciples, 'Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.'" Luke 12:22-23

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  1. Very venerable and well said Craig. Thank you.

  2. I like the new look.

  3. “replenishing my wardrobe for the next decade for next to nothing.” don’t tell me you’re finally hanging up your elc t-shirt collection…
    and regarding that sweet lady, what a glimpse into contentment!

  4. Megan retired the ELC collection five years ago, but in a classy way – she took all of our apparel and made it into a blanket. Now we think about camp every time we have a picnic.

  5. Seriously, Kara.

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