Thursday, July 13, 2006

"Jeans That Fit" A Metaphor for life and ministry Intro

INTRODUCTION TO THE METAPHOR: These days, it seems that every other store in the mall caters to teens. This was not the case when I was growing up. Back then, there was only one store, Marianne’s, where a young girl was certain to find the latest hip-huggers, peasant skirts and halter tops – certain that is, if she wore a 3 or even an 11, which as a 5’8” athlete, I did not. Try as I might, I could never find jeans that fit – they were either too short, or too tight, or both. Time and again – why did I punish myself so? – I left the store dismayed, “Nothing fits. What’s wrong with me?”

Not finding jeans that fit at Marianne’s left me no other option than to shop at the “old ladies’” stores where things never really fit my teen-age figure, and certainly didn’t flatter it. The other problem with shopping at these “fuddy-duddy” places was that it was not yet acceptable for older women to wear jeans. So, I could find slacks in about any color and a wide variety of ‘easy-care’ fabrics (a vital feature, I guess, to women over 30) but nothing in denim. Can you imagine going through your teen years with nothing to wear but high-waisted pants in a polyester blend? (Shudder!)

It was hard not being the same size as all the other girls in school. It was doubly hard not to be able to dress like them. But what made this situation unbearable was that they noticed. I know, I know. I ‘should have’ considered myself fortunate to even be noticed by these high-fashion misses, even appreciative of the energy they expended to craft derisive little digs to direct my way. Or, at the very least, I ‘should have’ been strong enough to stand up to their taunts, to reply with some catchy come-back that would put them in their place. But I was neither grateful nor resilient. Instead, I would walk away from these frequent hallway encounters wondering, “What’s wrong with me?”
I had taken a perverse pride for so long in struggling on alone; the struggle had given me a flicker of self-esteem, and besides, I had a horror of being a burden or a bore, and putting myself in danger of further humiliating brush-offs. When I was much younger, I had hoped to make friends but there seemed to be no place in the world of the thin for someone like me, and in the end, I’d retreated into isolation. Loneliness was painful, but at least it was silent, devoid of snide laughter and barbed comments. I was used to loneliness now. I thought of it as a chosen solitude, and was only occasionally aware of being unhappy.
(Susan Howatch, The Wonder Worker, New York: Ballantine, 1997, p. 40)

I am now middle-aged, and it has long ago become acceptable for us ‘old ladies’ to wear jeans, too. Not that that makes it any easier to find great fitting jeans at those fuddy-duddy stores I am still shopping at. I take some solace in the fact that my daughter, who wears a size three, and has lots more choices of where to shop than I ever did, also finds it hard to find jeans that fit. And I have noticed something marvelous. I have gotten to the place where I can leave a store empty-handed and never once utter that sorry little phrase, “What’s wrong with me?” Instead, as pair after pair of jeans is rejected as being too long (ironically,) or too tight, or too low, I find myself asking, “Since when did it become O.K. to wear high heels with jeans?!? In my day, that was a Glamour Magazine ‘Fashion Don’t.’ And I’m sorry, but butt cleavage will never be in style.”

I have stopped asking myself, “What’s wrong with me?” I wish I could tell you that it’s because I am in the best shape I’ve ever been, or because I’ve learned to ‘love the skin I’m in.’ Maybe it’s because I’ve grown too old to care. Maybe it’s because the only teens who taunt me now about my (lack of) fashion sense are my own kids. But I suspect that the reason I no longer ask, “What’s wrong with me?” is that my sensitive, self-conscious teen alter ego has found peace at last. All those petite misses in their high fashion jeans from Marianne’s are all middle-aged too – and shopping at the same “fuddy-duddy” stores I do. Even thirty years later, revenge is sweet.