Last night I spent a little time with my group of close women friends. I had looked forward to the evening for a couple of weeks, but in the end I couldn't manage more than about half an hour or so. The day had been a pretty rough one ~ not that anything had happened; I had just been feeling lost in a huge sea of sadness ~ and even a group of six or seven of my closest friends seemed a bit overwhelming.
Two of us there have been paddling the same ocean, and my dear friend who lost her husband last spring mentioned that she has bought more clothes for herself in the past several months than at any time in her life.
"I've been doing a lot of that, too," I said in surprise. "And then I take most of them back."
I thought about it for a minute and then said, "Do you think it's an identity thing? We are not who we were, and we can't figure out who we have become, and so we can't figure out what to wear?"
My friend looked at me and said, "I think you're exactly right."
I mentioned a couple of -- for me -- bizarre examples. A month or so ago, I went off to J. Jill, one of my very favorite stores, and spent quite a bit of money, came home and looked at what I had purchased, and said, "Nope - not me," and took it all back the next day. The night before, I said, I had discovered a website dedicated to Michelle Obama's wardrobe and spent quite some time looking at it. "Maybe I'm Michelle?" I wondered. "No, you are not!" said another friend. "Well, I think she's fabulous, so I guess I've been insulted?" I wondered. "She IS fabulous," said my friend, "and so are you, but you are not her."
OK, I am not tall and lean and athletic, I do not have two little girls, I am not moving into the White House, my skin is surprisingly fair given my dark hair and eyes, I don't really know what The View is, and no one will ever ask my opinion on a state dinner or perhaps anything else ~ true enough, I am not Michelle Obama.
But who AM I now?
Later last night I read a piece in Newsweek by a young woman who, despite a long series of medical challenges ~ disasters, really, in the eyes of most of us ~ insists upon identifying herself as a healthy person. There is a lot to learn here, I thought. Am I a healthy person? Am I a survivor? Can I be those things without losing my connection to my child? Can I be a person at peace in the middle of this huge sea of sadness? In a few years, will I be a minister and/or spiritual director who has learned to balance joy and sorrow? What does such a person look like?
For now, I am going to go out to breakfast with my friends, and then I am going to come home and read Tillich and Torrance and respond to a few more of the condolence notes stacked up in the sunroom. For now, I am going to put on my black corduroy pants, my black clogs, and a baggy turtleneck sweater. For now, I am going to put on clothes that don't work and do things that don't work and try not to wonder too much about my interior evolution, which seems to have a will beyond consciousness.
But I do wonder about that earthshaking question: what do I wear?