Greetings Dear Friends!
Over and over, people say to me “I would do this myself, but I’m afraid to wreck something.” Well, let me tell you, all ye afraid of wreckage: The very first thing I do, the moment your back is turned, is start to destroy your clothes. I grab a thread ripper—which is a small, razor-sharp blade designed to go dull within three inches of a 24 inch seam—and I begin to hack your garment to shreds. I never want you to see me do this. It is a little secret of mine that I don’t want you to know. It doesn’t matter if it is a wedding gown or a grubby pair of work jeans—if you bring your clothes to me to fix, I wreck them first. I might wreck them a tiny bit, or a whole big lot, depending on the size of the alteration you require, the kind of fabric it is, or even just my mood if I don’t feel like fiddling around in tight spaces. By the time you get back, your clothes will look as close to perfect as I can manage and you will never know what has happened to them, if I am lucky.
A bright-eyed, smallish older lady is peering at a pair of navy blue slacks with great interest. She has brought them in to be “shottened,” as they say here in Massachusetts. Even after living here for twenty-five years, certain turns of phrase still catch my ear sideways and won’t go in properly so I ask her again what they need. She sees me focusing on her lips so she speaks slowly and deliberately, as if she has to drop a grade-level with each word, so that I can understand her. “I…need… you… to… make… these… shot.” Shot? My brow wrinkles. Do we need some sort of pellet gun for this endeavor? Madam, I feel more comfortable ripping your pants the standard way, not shooting them! Seeing my confusion, she tries a new approach: “you know, cut the bottoms off these somehow and bring them up,” she says. Oh!!! Short… She needs them to be shortened. I breathe a sigh of relief.
“I would do it myself but these are tricky. I don’t know how to do it. How are you going to do it? Can you even do it? I just don’t know…” she is Very Concerned. She doesn’t want anything "wrecked." Maybe she has purchased a pair of trousers for which absolutely nothing can be done. A series of unrealistic possibilities bombards her. Maybe she should just wear stilts every time she needs to go out in public. Maybe she should have grown taller when she was younger and had the chance. Maybe with a diet of broccoli and jumping-jacks she would not have to face the likes of me. Sadly, I am her only ally in this dilemma. “They have this vent here and this big thick elastic cuff around here…I just don’t know how you are going to do this. They have to go up quite a bit because they are at my ankle now and they need to be mid-calf. As you can see, I’m very shot.” She points to all the details at the bottom of the legs. “I like all this here. This is what makes the pants look so pretty. It’s a shame you are going to have to cut all this off.”
“Oh, I’ll put it all back on, don’t you worry,” I say, trying to alleviate her fears.
“Well, what’s the point of that?” she asks somewhat huffily. “If you just put it back on, it won’t be any shot-er!” Clearly, I am an idiot.
“No, I will shorten them before I put the cuffs back on,” I explain, smiling. It’s instantly obvious to me what needs to be done—it’s a wonderfully simple job—but there is no convincing her of this. After a lengthy discussion in which we both squander a portion of our lives that we will never get back, she agrees, sort of grudgingly, to trust me and leaves the shop shaking her head. She still does not know how I, despite being a skilled professional, am going to manage this little navy blue melodrama she has just deposited. She is afraid I am going to wreck it. But her fear of what she might do to her pants outweighs her fear of what I will do to them, so she leaves them.
A few days later, she comes in to pick them up and scans them all over. “I can’t see what you did,” she says. “How did you cut them? How come they still have the elastic cuff? Did you even do them?” She is full of wonderment. She holds them up against her leg. “Wow! Would you look at that! They’re shot alright. You guys must have a magic wand in here. I’ll never know how you did that.”
Over and over, customers—dear, anxious yet hopeful customers—venture in with skepticism and pants or dress in hand and want to know “how are we going to do this [Thing Which Must Be Done]. “It is a mystery,” we say, “Please, don’t worry!” I love these customers the best. There is something so endearing about their confusion and their utter lack of faith. These customers are far more preferable to the ones who storm in braying about how we should do our job, when they clearly have no idea. Though it’s sometimes very entertaining to sit there and listen to someone pontificate on how it might be done. I can’t help but think of Lady Catherine DeBourgh saying “..and had I ever learned, I should have been a great proficient!” We usually listen very politely then do it the Right Way instead.
Step one is to rip things back to a reasonable starting point. This sometimes means removing anything the dear, misguided soul has done to fix the problem before coming in. Sometimes we have to remove staples, glue, duct tape, paper clips, hotel-sewing-kit thread in honkin’ big stitches in the wrong color…you name it…whatever they have added to their garment in order to survive a day. Honestly! The number of men who have split their suit pants and STAPLED them back together is astounding.
Sometimes, they think they are being “helpful” by doing some of our work for us ahead of time, like the woman who comes in with a skirt in a bag. “My aunt was a seamstress,” she announces, “but I never seemed to pick it up.” She says this as if being able to sew is some sort of virus that one catches by sheer proximity to needles with threads in them. “Anyway, I was going to hem this skirt myself but then I thought it would be better if you did it instead. I didn’t want to wreck it.”
“Sure,” I say. “Do you need to try it on?”
“Oh, no, thanks, I’ve already cut it to length. All you need to do is just even it off and sew it up.” She smiles breezily. I take her name and number and the woman exits the shop. I take the skirt out of the bag and get a good look at it.
“Oh for crochet!” I mutter. “Ladies, you won’t believe this! Come get a look at what she did!” We look at the skirt. Its jagged edges look like something Thelma Flintstone or Betty Rubble would wear. And she didn’t want to “wreck” it?? Did she cut this with a rusty kitchen knife or a chainsaw?
“I can see what she did,” says one friend. “Look, she scrunched it all up in one fist, like a bouquet of flowers and snipped the whole thing off in one chop. See how the edges look like an accordion!”
“She has no idea how much shorter this is going to be by the time we even this off!” She’s going to wind up with a loin cloth! Why didn’t she trust us to do it right the first time? We all want to know.
Before we can fix anything, it must be broken down, made ready, opened up, torn apart, so that it can stop being what it was, which was unsatisfactory, and begin the journey to what it will become. And before we can do this work, each supplicant must walk away—detatch from the situation, leave it all in better hands. Come back later and be surprised. This is as true for a pair of pants as it is for all of our Spirits. I think about all the areas of my life that need to be broken down, made messy, before they can be refashioned into something better. I think about how I have prayed, in sheer, teary desperation because I did not know how to solve a problem—and yet I was praying in such a closed off way that I was not open to any other way of being fixed, except by my own ridiculous ideas, which were the kind of thinking that caused my troubles in the first place... I am that sweet, misguided customer, storming Heaven’s gate, unwilling to detach, wondering how Someone’s going to fix my pants!
I like to imagine my Guardian angel joining in with a flock of other Guardian angels going to the break room up in Heaven, having some sort of heavenly snack or smoking their little angel cigarettes with a cup of angel coffee, and bitching about their charges down below. They probably say a lot of things we say right in the shop: “We got this; don’t they know that? That’s what we are here for!” “I wish they wouldn’t worry so much.” “Why are people so afraid of us wrecking things? Things can’t be fixed properly unless they get wrecked a little more first.” “Wait til she sees how great this will turn out.” “Something is breaking through that which is breaking down.” “Oh, for crochet, would you look at what my guy tried to do to fix his Life this time?” “Yeah… well, my gal keeps praying she’ll win the lottery! Ha! That’s her answer to everything. As if!” On it goes until the bell rings and they brush the crumbs off their feathers and resume their Loving Work.
Never mind asking Celestial Beings to look out for us. It takes genuine faith to ask humans to fix things. Some people say there is no such thing as a Higher Power, but I say there are many, all around us. Just because I can fix clothing does not mean I can unclog a drain, rewire the garage, or flush my own transmission. (Some days I can’t even flush my own toilet!) None of us has to know Everything—we are here to ask each other for help, to trust each other’s specialized skill and wisdom. We need faith in our doctors, carpenters, and car mechanics—in all the overlapping and concentric circles of expertise that surround us. Desperation gives us no other choice. Musicians and Veterinarians are terribly clever people but they are just as easily flummoxed by a jammed invisible zipper as the frantic businessman who recently stapled his fly shut to attend a meeting.
Anything worth fixing is worth wrecking properly. When we have made a mess, or are afraid to, we need to take it to someone brave enough to Wreck it Better. We don’t need to understand How it shall be done. We just need to trust. And so it is.
May you trust in the cycles of wreckage and repair, dear friends! Be well, and do Good Work!