Growing up, I remember being mortified at having to go with the rest of the brood to the local thrift store with my mom. Truth be told, it was run by a United Methodist church and did a great deal of good for people with large families filled with growing kids. But the fear of my friends finding out we got things ‘from there’ was more than enough to whip up imaginary images of some dimly lit basement with its own alley entrance and filled with stuff no one wanted. Not true, but Fear has a way of shading emotional pictures we snap in our brains.
Not surprisingly, as I got out in the world and started making my own money, I marked the change by walking in the front door of more than one upscale retailer. I not only embraced paying full price for whatever seemed to catch my eye, I celebrated it. I liked getting compliments on my new this or that. Looking back, I think it was just my way of validating to myself that I wasn’t that little poor kid anymore. In the moment, it was fun. It felt good to walk out of the store with more bags of stuff than a Vanderbilt.
But all that glitters for a moment can often dim just as quickly. Despite my first childhood brushes with dingy store front 2nd hand stores, I remember moving beyond my bad case of conspicuous retail consumption as I began weighing a crammed closet and a smaller bank account against the value of what I was getting in return. I mean after all, once the endorphin rush of buying the new sweater had departed, the only thing I was left with was being that much closer to my credit limit.
What if I could get the same item for a lot less money? Think about it. What had I really been buying anyway?
Ever since that epiphany, I’ve squelched the childhood misgivings about what other people might think, spending the better part of my Life perfecting the art of being frugal. At the risk of sounding like I’m standing up at a support group meeting, there are moments in the hunt for a good bargain so perfect for me they nearly qualify as an out of body experience. Sometimes I think I could live as simply as a monk and be perfectly content, knowing I had saved 80% off retail for something worth every penny of full price.
But as with any grace, there is a dark side. As proud as I am of my bargain hunting prowess, I rarely speak about my resale shop leanings. Me keeping mum makes me wonder if my fears of being stigmatized by others as a poor kid never really disappeared. But as with any broad brush generalization, there are exceptions and sometimes they are quite notable.
Yesterday was a perfect example. We’d driven to a neighboring upscale suburb with a phenomenal library and an even better music section. To be able to check out CD’s from thousands of artists, enjoy them and bring them back in three weeks has to be one of the best bargains going. I was already humming the cup song from Pitch Perfect as we headed back to the car.
“Hey, since we’re already here, let’s go check out the hospitals’ resale shop. Sometimes they’ve got some really nice stuff.”
Knowing I could use a new pair of pants for work, I agreed. I mean, after all, I had a need and discounts are always en vogue. We hadn’t even crossed the threshold when we saw the sign ‘Pants – 50% Off‘. The adrenalin ticked up my heart rate as I smelled an unexpected opportunity for the hunt in this unusually upscale venue.
One pair – too small; another pair, too short. But on we went, working our way through what was a pretty classy shop. Well appointed and managed by volunteers, the shops’ proceeds went to support the various social service initiatives of the hospital’s auxiliary. And as any garage sales junkie knows, rich people have some really nice stuff!
“Here’s a nice pair!”
Rick had scored a gorgeous pair of dress slacks perfect for work. Expertly tailored with cuffed legs, I was curious: “How much?” A little hesitant, I turned over the price tag. $5. No, scratch that, today was a sale day – they were really $2.50! Are you kidding me! I could swear that for a moment, just a moment, I could hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir humming the Battle Hymn of the Republic in the background as the skies opened above me with sunbeams for all.
I had my pair of pants – loved them in fact – mission accomplished, time to go.
“What do you think of this pair?”
“Those are nice too.”
“Here, go try ’em on…”
And shirts? “You could use a new dress shirt too. What do you think of this one?” Now I’m getting oddly uncomfortable.
“Do you like this one?”
Here’s where the ride gets really confusing.
I was actually feeling myself getting angry. Every passing minute in the swanky shop was getting more uncomfortable. I heard myself sighing as only one with passive, aggressive tendencies can. I had effectively withdrawn from the conversation, acting as if I was getting bored by the whole thing. And all of it in an effort to reign in and/or otherwise dampen Rick’s effort to take better care of me than I typically do of myself.
I do for others when I spot the opportunity – and like being good at it. But here’s someone doing for me and all I can think about is desperately wanting the whole exercise to end.
“I found this sweater…what do you think?”
I was floored. For as clearly as I could see the $10 price tag, I recognized the label. I knew any store on North Michigan Avenue could sell it for $120 and not even blink an eye. Even in my growing funk, I had to acknowledge its’ never-worn feel.
“OK, that’s fine, but let’s go, we still have things to do.”
What was going on? Have you ever felt this way?
I would normally be over the moon with such finds, but in the space of 5-minutes, I wasn’t feeling I was worth all the hubbub. And the tighter my jaws clenched, the more I could feel grinding teeth. Ding! I recognized this feeling. I’ve been here many times before.
I’d been trained from my earliest childhood memory to occupy the smallest footprint possible. The implied thought was, ‘God doesn’t call us to be peacocks. Go on thinking that way and you’ll start putting ideas in your head about worldly things’. As a little kid, it translated into ‘don’t do anything to tick off the Creator or He might not love you’. Through all the places I’ve been and things I’ve done, I now know it wasn’t the Cosmos threatening to withdraw if I didn’t behave. The people doing most of the psychological saber rattling were much closer to home.
But I digress because none of these realizations were going through my head as we paid for our finds and began making our way towards the shop’s front door when there, sitting on the corner of a beautiful old wooden desk for sale in the front window was a small timeworn hourglass. In one blinding instant, I heard someone at my shoulder whisper, “Turn it over”. Though I know no one was there, the voice was as real as I’m sitting here now. I got it.
Turn it over. Flip it.
None of us is promised X amount of time, but every day we’re here, we are given the choice to flip the egg timer and come at ourselves all over again. You see, sometimes, there are ‘do overs’. I’m learning that when I get one, I am well served to celebrate the chance by acting on it. Flip it. And I did as soon as we got back into the car. “I’m sorry. You did a really good thing for me today.”
And when I flipped it? I felt like I was once again a full member in good standing in the family of Man. I seriously don’t think we were created to go shuffling around feeling bad about emotions we learned long ago from others who weren’t us. What joyful noise is going to come from that?
I’ve brought myself back from my thrift store blues. I’m going to like feeling good about the way I look walking into work this week. My head is up and my shoulders are squared because I was blessed to be reminded of the power of turning something upside down; to look at it from a different point of view that was authentic for me. Wow! Not bad for the $32 spent supporting a healing place, walking out with clothing first selected by a gentlemen with pretty good taste who thought that maybe, just maybe, there might be a guy like me who would value the workmanship of the clothing as much as he had. To that unknown benefactor, I am grateful and filled with new appreciation of the power resident in paying our lives forward.
Now it’s up to me to do the same for someone else. The flip effect works in all kinds of situations. Try it. That’s how it works. It’s the only way we’re all going to be OK. If you find yourself in a situation this week where your old habits return to you pretending to claim something they no longer own, I would suggest you might do what I did. Flip them off. Flip it over.
Leaves sprout and grow to render shade.
Leaves turn brilliant colors and fall to cover the earth around our feet.
Now flat on the ground their magic takes root as kindness works its way back into the earth we all came from.
Love takes over and finds the ways we’ll never see.
Be well as you travel this week. See you on the flip side.
SOURCES, PHOTO CREDITS and ATTRIBUTIONS:
Banner Coastal Redwood Forest by Eric E Photography is used with permission.
Thrift Shop: http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451ccbc69e20112793f833228; Upscale Retail (Brown Thomas’s Grafton Street store): http://www.thecoolhunter.net/cloud/view/Stores; Louis Vitton: http://www.southflorida.com/news/sfl-designer-looks-for-less-photos-20130128,0,3217084.photogallery; Nice Slacks: http://nice-slacks.blogspot.com/; Bored Yawn: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Science/pix/2007/08/16/yawn_4.jpg; hourglass2-via-blog.163.com_: http://indranislight.org/2013/02/expired-skill-sets/; Bob Marley on being a gentlemen: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/65/ae/53/65ae532a8f079c0d4e29a402fdaeae77.jpg ; The Odd Life of Timothy Green: http://www.movieposterdb.com/movie/1462769/The-Odd-Life-of-Timothy-Green.html; Ikepod-Hourglass-6: http://www.ablogtowatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Ikepod-Hourglass-6.jpg
The Odd Life of Timothy Green
While it isn’t a hard-hitting Scorsese kind of flick, it does have all the hallmarks of a story well told. Being different, I liked its curious take of the little ones among us being the biggest teachers we have.
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