Around three years ago, after a lifetime of activity, adventure and accomplishment, I began to learn who I am and how to please myself.
My Dad had recently died and with his passing the foundations of life as I had known it began to crack. Through these seismic shifts, the delicate tendrils of a new, more authentic me began to emerge.
At about that time, I went to a hat sale.
It was a charity event, and I was determined to support the cause. Well, I tried on hat after hat after hat, but nothing worked. Finally, as if guided by a will of its own, my hand reached for the most extravagant and, well, the gaudiest hat on the table.
It was like those moments before a fall or a spill where everything seems to shift into slow motion: my hand reaching inexorably for the hat, and my mind silently screaming, “Ohhhhhh noooooo—not that one!” I mean, the hat was just ridiculous—shiny, gold, wide brim, big satin bow, covered with gold sequins.
Wouldn’t you know? The hat fit. And, with all due modesty, darn if that thing didn’t look fabulous on me!
I might secretly wish to be a cool sophisticate wearing natural linen, however, deep inside I am still that little girl who reaches for shiny objects and bright colors. My sophisticated intellect did not like the hat, but my soul surely loved it. I glowed the minute I put it on.
Oh dear, what should I do? Should I buy it, or shouldn’t I? Would I wear it, or wouldn’t I? Could I pull it off, or couldn’t I? Back and forth my intellect and my inner child struggled. Finally, remembering that the sale was for a good cause, I surrendered the battle to my inner little girl, and bought the hat.
I took the hat home and gingerly put it up on a shelf in my hall closet. And there it sat, a foreign presence in my home.
Now that I bought it, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I tried it with one or two outfits, but nothing felt right. So, the hat sat on the shelf in the closet. I looked at it, and it seemed to look right back at me: détente.
One sunny morning, I was ready to go out with my young son when, on a whim (truthfully, it felt more like on command), my hand once again acted as if of its own volition. I reached into the closet, grabbed the hat and put it on. Knock me over with a feather! I was astonished to find that the hat worked with the navy dress I was wearing.
I knew that this might be my only chance. So, hat perched firmly on head, I grabbed my son’s hand and we marched out the door.
Two houses down, my elderly neighbor, Irma, did a double take. She looked at me quizzically for a moment as I held my breath. “Nice hat!” she finally said, sounding somewhat incredulous.
So far, so good. With thanks, we marched on.
On the next block, a man, a complete stranger, called out to me from across the street, tapping his head with his finger. “What?” I asked with a smile. “Crazy hat,” he said, quite seriously.
Ah! There it was, my haiku of a life lesson: two swift strokes—one up, one down—drawing their resonance in the play of the lines against each other.
Up, down—I had to laugh. I couldn’t please all people all the time so I had to please myself! And to do that, I had to take risks.
At the time, I had been working on writing a book, and I had been putting myself “out there” in ways I had never done before. It was scary to allow my truth onto the page—truth I had hardly even admitted to myself—and I needed a reminder not to crave approval, nor fear criticism, either, but to keep on expressing my truth. Wearing the hat that sunny day gave me the reminder I needed.
Even wearing a hat can be an act of courage. Not everyone will like it; not everyone will hate it. Whatever they think will have more to do with them than with me.
If I don’t express myself, the nay-sayers will have won, and nothing good—for them or for me—will come of that victory. If I do express myself, the rewards are great: I satisfy my soul, I make my contribution, and, if I’m so blessed, maybe even inspire others to express themselves as well.
But the story doesn’t end there.
When my son and I got to where we were going, we bumped into a friend who remarked that she had originally purchased the very hat I was wearing at a previous charity sale! It turns out that a friend of hers had pushed her to buy it, but when she got home she realized it just wasn’t for her, and so she had contributed it to the event where I found it.
I swear that hat had a living presence! Like two long lost lovers, the hat and I were destined for each other, and my friend was part of the twists and turns of its journey to me.
For the rest of the morning, the hat sparked compliments, laughter, and stories from almost everyone I met. It was the life of the party.
As I write this today, three years after that sunny morning when I first stepped out with the hat, my neighbor, Irma, has recently passed. She reached her nineties in fine form, swimming and playing tennis every day, taking in shows and community events and cruises where she would dance with folks half her age into the wee hours.
Irma had a talent for happiness, so I chuckle to think that she recognized the joyous nature of the hat as a kindred spirit, and I feel somehow blessed by that recognition. Those two strokes of the haiku, one up and one down, are not equal: I choose to be on Irma’s team. I wear the hat even today (minus the fancy trimmings), and I hope I’ll still be on the dance floor when I get to be Irma’s age.
The hat has quite a resume: it was sold twice to benefit charitable causes; it traveled through many hands to get to me, and I’m sure I don’t know half its stories! When I first brought it home, it felt like an adversary, a challenge. And then it became a teacher—the gentle instrument of a lesson in self-acceptance. I had wanted to teach my son about following his heart and not listening too much to others’ opinions. Really, my own heart needed those lessons.
Now I know that there are more than just skeletons hiding in people’s closets! Who knows what fabulous hats are in there as well?
Or perhaps it’s our golden dreams of beauty that turn into dusty skeletons if they are not taken out to play. I’ve decided to let my dreams out into the sunlight—while I still have the chance—and discover the wondrous treasures they have to offer!