It just never looks right. I pull it out of my closet occasionally, the little brown shrug I’ve had for three years. I am always convinced that this time it will be the perfect complement to my chosen outfit. I lay out the pieces carefully, noting that the color—a sort of coppery brown—exactly matches the trim on this dress, or perfectly accents my green skirt. I dress with the anticipation of looking “pulled together and not dowdy”, a feat difficult to accomplish in today’s edgy fashion world.
But it never quite works and I am hard pressed to know why. It SHOULD fit into my life, but somehow it never does. Despite the fact that it has let me down for years, I hang onto it, convinced that someday it will be useful to me.
Perhaps one reason I hang onto it is my clear memory of who I was with when I bought it. My friend Nancy and I had enjoyed a lovely lunch and I had been excitedly telling her about my upcoming cruise to Bermuda. She suggested that we go on up to Sears so I could purchase a new bathing suit. This little coppery shrug was hanging on a sale rack right outside the dressing room. It’s color matched the trim on a bathing suit that, miraculously, fit both me and my budget. And the shrug was only $3.00! I imagined tossing it around my shoulders on cool evenings as I stood on the ocean liner’s deck, admiring the reflection of the stars on the surface of the sea.
The shrug never lived up to my expectations. Ocean liners, unlike the one in An Affair to Remember, no longer have many open decks for casual evening strolls. It’s actually pretty windy out on the high seas, and my little sale purchase provided little protection. It stayed in my suitcase most of the cruise and now takes up space—if only a little—in my closet. But it doesn’t really fit into my life. I should get rid of it, but still I hang onto it, expecting that it will change color or shape and suddenly fit it. I do not easily give up.
But sometimes the best thing you can do is simply that: give up. The little coppery shrug reminds me of other things I have needed to give up. After Ron’s car accident that robbed me of a partner and the children of a father, I found myself grabbing onto things long after their usefulness had been spent. It took me years to learn to un-clench my fists and let go. Even now, fifteen years later, my first response is always to hang on, even at detriment to myself. I hang onto jobs, to broken items, to articles of clothing that look good on a hanger but don’t look good on me.
This past week, I have needed to let go of several things that I clung to, counting on them to protect me and those who depend on me. First, my job as Reading Specialist at Alliance for Progress Charter School in North Philadelphia bit the dust due to drastic budget cuts mandated by the state’s decree that schools make up the deficit in the teacher retirement fund. I would have gone back to Alliance, despite the long drive in bad weather that strained my poor vision. Then my part-time jobs as a college professor and resource specialist hit the fan, again due to budget cuts outlined by the school’s new president. I was good at these jobs, all of them. But I know God can use my skills elsewhere.
The hardest loss to take, however, was not a job but a relationship, what I thought was a close friendship. For the last six years, what began as a collegiality evolved into twice weekly dinners and help at my daughter’s wedding. But things began to change in April, when Ron was hospitalized for four weeks; there were no phone calls from her, no invitation to Easter dinner. I could no longer devote twenty hours a week to a job that only paid me for ten. I started saying “no” to attending last minute events and going out to recruit students on my weekends off. I didn’t think it would affect our personal friendship.
I was wrong. But still, I tried to hang onto it, tried to tell myself that things would get better when Ron came home, tried to make excuses for her lack of compassion for my current situation. I hung onto it, keeping it stowed in my closet.
Last week, with her casual dismissal of my role at the college and my feelings of loss, I was forced to admit the truth; this no longer fit. I could keep it if I wanted to, shove it aside and pull it out again in a few months. It might be better. But it might not. It depended on if I was willing to accept that it might not ever be what I needed it to be. I bore no animosity towards her. I bear none towards the shrug that never quite worked. Should I see her at Walmart, I would smile and be pleasant. But my life required friends that could uplift me and respect my feelings, not merely brush them aside with a “nothing I can do about it.”
And, quite honestly, the brown coppery shrug might be better off with someone else. On a rack at Good Will, it could call to the soul of someone with a copper-toned spirit. It could be part of someone’s wardrobe instead of waiting on a hanger.
It could move on.
And so could I.