Greetings Dear Ones!
Just since last Wednesday, I have had two conversations with inspirational people who profoundly changed how I look at my job as a seamstress. The first one was with a very dear and long-time friend who has become an Anglican Priest and followed a ministry of music, prayer and peace in the past quarter century I have known him. We sat, on the finest and final day of May, in the serenity of the garden by his church and talked of his mission to Guatemala and to “the poor” and the call to live as Love to all our brethren (and sistren). He is the kind of friend who makes your heart grow two sizes just by listening to him. Within minutes, totally inspired, I was burning to go to Guatemala and the inner city soup kitchens he patrols… I thought about the poor where I live and I did not find them nearly as glamorously deserving as the poor in Guatemala or Haiti, or the other places we talked of. I do not want to serve my own local poor. The city nearest me is full of drug dealers and con-artists who should not make me judge them, but they do. I want to go somewhere Magnificent, like India, and serve their poor—their noble and deserving poor. My poor, the people nickel-ing and dime-ing us to death in the shop are just a total nuisance who bitch about prices and want us to fix their grubby clothes for nothing. My poor are victims only of their own bad choices, such as buying that regrettable dress from Walmart, or thinking that they could buy a cheap wedding dress online from China at 2:am.
The next conversation that changed me wasn’t really a conversation at all; it was more of a comment. Another friend, an ardent and self-confessed cat lady, was chatting away, enjoying her first cup of freshly brewed nettle tea this season, when her tom-cat appeared and deposited a decapitated mouse by her foot. I love cats but I have never spent much time around them, Jack Russells and cats being mutually exclusive… So I was a little horrified to witness this disgusting gesture on the part of the cat, which then proceeded to retch a little on the carpet, in a self-satisfied, almost swaggering way. (If anything can retch in a self-important way, it seems to be a cat.) Far from being tempted to retch as well, my friend behaved as if she were enchanted. She praised him and cooed over his dead, headless mouse as if it were a bracelet from Tiffany’s. “This is a Love Offering,” she hissed to me in a stage whisper behind her hand, as I joined the cat in gagging. “This cat is saying he LOVES me.” I think about Gary Chapman’s book about the five languages of Love. The languages are: acts of service, words of praise and affirmation, gifts, quality time, and physical touch. The cat and my friend exchanged all of the viable translations of love possible for a feline and his doting mistress in just one interaction.
In the days that follow, I start to feel crummy about not serving the poor near me. I consider the Love Languages of cats and about juxtaposing all these ideas into a new way of being with customers. Just for a week, I am going to treat everything they bring me as a love offering—everything from the crusty jeans of a male octogenarian who has glued tea towels inside them to the police uniforms of a young woman who wants us to take them in so much and make them so shapely that she will barely be able to lift her gun. If my friend can perceive love in decapitated rodents, I can surely find love in pants that have been stapled shut by a panicked businessman who split them on his way to a meeting. I don’t have to go to Calcutta or Guatemala City to offer service to the poor. I can offer love and service right where I am, with the work of my hands, kind words, smiling eyes, and quality time. I will go one step further and throw in a little Transcendentalism, a little Walt Whitman. I will fall In Love with my fellow bretheren and sisteren. I will BE the love I want to see in the world. I will be a balm to the afflicted and to those who have outgrown their Alfred Dunner polyester elastic waistbands. I will view our interactions with all the formal reverence and ardent longing of a medieval courtship.
Here is Day One:
My first love of the day is a very tall, exhausted looking man resembling an extremely skinny tortoise, who shuffles painfully to the door with a pair of khaki pants in his hands. There are chocolate smears all over the bum and a button missing. He doesn’t know how this happened. I assure him in warm and loving tones that it is my pleasure to take care of his pants. By sewing a button on them, by having the trousers laundered for him, I am taking care of him, perhaps even lengthening his life, since his wife would want to kill him if she saw what he had done to these new pants. He smiles gratefully and departs. He can feel the love. I know it.
My next suitor is a woman who has no dress. She stops into the shop and wants to speak to “a seamstress.” I gaze at her adoringly as she tells me she is planning to get a dress in Mid-June. (And presumably, just wants to share her joy? I don’t know. ) She launches into an exciting tale about why she has no dress yet but needs to make an appointment because as soon as she gets this dress, she’s going to need it to fit about two weeks after that. Our courtship is a whirlwind of her plans for herself and her dress, which she does not have yet. She leaves me feeling slightly dizzy. I have no idea what we decided. We don’t actually make an appointment, er, set a date. But I love her. I have no idea if she noticed.
By contrast, my next lover is brisk and to the point. She has these curtains she hates. She does not make eye-contact with me—just keeps glaring at the offending curtains, which huddle miserably on the counter. She wants them cut and hemmed shorter. She needs them as soon as possible. I can’t help feeling like we are in a lover’s spat. Have I done something wrong already? Our courtship is brief. She bangs the door on her way out.
While my co-worker is out on break, a worn-out looking woman with bleached blonde hair and raccoon eye makeup staggers through the door with an armload of posters for the upcoming St. Somebody Carnival. She looks at me and says “you guys aren’t interested in putting up a poster are you? Probably not, huh?” and before I can receive her love offerings, she shrugs and staggers back out the door!
A lovely gentleman with thick white hair and kind blue eyes comes in to have his pants fitted and a jacket evaluated. The jacket is fine but the pants are baggy. I tell him we can fix that and that nothing will bring me greater joy than to remove all the excess cloth from his seat area. He looks alarmed, hopeful, and doubtful all at the same time. Perhaps I need to confine my love of my fellow man to the silence of my heart and actions, not my words, so as not to scare him.
A young man smelling vaguely of French fries, greasy hair, and poor self worth comes in with a broken jacket zipper and some jeans to hem, which are ragged. He says they need to be shorter than the ragged bit. I beckon him (lovingly!) to try them on in the dressing room so that we can get a more accurate target than that. Sheepishly, he shuffles in. I hear thumping through the door as my Beloved puts on his ratty jeans. I wait, patiently. Finally, the door opens again and he comes out with the jeans folded over his arm. I point out, as lovingly as possible, that I never got to see them on him. He folds up one leg where he thinks it needs to go. “It doesn’t matter if you get them wrong,” he insists, and leaves. There’s only so much love he can take in one day.
The next woman through the door is easy to love. She has interesting hair and make-up and that cheery yet no-nonsense confidence of a woman from the Mid-West. The air around her sparkles. I gaze into her eyes. It is love at first sight. She has a jacket that needs a snap A.S.A.P. as she is flying out to an important job interview in Michigan tomorrow morning and this is the jacket she wants to wear. As I am putting the pin in the jacket where the snap is supposed to go, she leans over and inhales my hair. “You smell good,” she purrs. “You smell like Trust!” After she goes, while I am still in the delirium of requited love, my co-worker looks up from her sewing machine and says dryly “and just what does Trust smell like?” I toss my hair—“Like THIS!” I say, giggling like a school girl.
The door bangs and in comes one of the “poorest of the poor”—poor manners, poor grammar, poor attitude—with one pair of pants. He thinks they need to be shortened about one inch but he refuses to try them on. He needs them by Friday but he doesn’t want to be up-charged because of the rush. His energy is combative. Being Love in Action for someone like this is tricky. He behaves like I am a firefly he’d like to swat. “Don’t say you’ll call me, I’ll come get them when I’m ready,” he growls. He leaves with one shoulder higher than the other and gives oncoming traffic the middle finger as he crosses the road. Sometimes, the most difficult to love are just asking for love in the most difficult to understand ways.
My final love affair arrives just before 5, saving the best for last. He has been collecting hangers for us in the back of his truck for weeks. They’ve gotten a little rain on them, he informs us, but they’ll be Just Fine with a little brillo pad and maybe a coat of paint. He makes four trips out to the car to create a mountain of tangled rust and wire on our cutting table. I thank him as effusively as a cat-lady presented with a decapitated mouse. He looks pleased with himself as I coo my praise and gratitude. “Yeah,” he says, shuffling his feet and grinning, “all ya gotta do is give them a good scrubbing and then spray paint them all and they’ll be good as new.” He’s said this four times. I bless him and wait until he pulls out of the driveway so I can haul his treasured love offering to the nearest dumpster. I don't have the needed hours to spend sanding and painting his crap.
I’ll try to be a better Lover tomorrow.
Be well, dear friends, and do Good Work!