I’m in Goodwill looking for clothes to fit my new life. It’s a large store, about half the size of a Target with huge windows and quiet glass doors which gently open and close with a welcome for anyone who walks in. The light is liquid and generous. There are no special tricks with colored bulbs or fluorescent tubes. All the boots and sneakers, gloves and toys are resting in natural light and the mood is decidedly cheery. Goodwill has its own system here. Clothes are gathered by type and color more than size so it’s a treasure hunt to find my size and shape. When I give it time that’s part of the joy.
This whole process of picking a “new life” has been about time and sorting through racks of options to decide what fits me. First came the time when I wasn’t working every day and realized I was okay, but not really happy. Then came taking time to sit in a two-week meditation, as silent and still as a statue, which focused my attention on things I couldn’t see from an office or a moving car. That time bought me something new: I could hear and see as an observer in awe. It takes time to notice the world is beautiful.
Still, it took eight more years for me to quit my real job as a television journalist and cull my possessions down to a five-by-five storage unit and the trunk of my car. I’m climbing the metaphorical ladder out of one life and into another and it’s equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.
On this day the ladder leads me to Goodwill. The place is packed. It’s a Saturday in fall and people are gathered around neatly hung winter coats like encircling a fire in the snow. There’s a big circle gathering in house wares too where single moms and older couples size up rows of mismatched glass widgets; bowls, plates and cups all catching the light and dancing as it shimmies through them. Goodwill is a happy place of donated items meant to help those who can’t or don’t want to buy retail. The pressure of needing a lot of cash is lifted and so is the guilt about consuming too much. It’s a carefree romp through rows of things once loved by someone else and now available for me to love. Even if I don’t decide to take something home, I know someone will or it will sit on its happy shelf for however long it takes. Goodwill does not need to be trendy and throw out the old stuff. That thought is as comforting as a sleep over at Grandma’s house.
Crossing over to the rows of darkly colored clothes I begin my search. I am flipping past shirts and pants and skirts, many of which I’ve donated. I no longer need that smart wool suit or dress-for-success jacket. I wore them with pride as a young upwardly mobile woman climbing the ladder to the corner office and later I wore them with dread like putting on anything that no longer fits. I’m here looking for simple black stretch pants and shirts appropriate for Upaya, a community of Buddhists who kindly allow you to stay for awhile and try on the life of a serious student and Zazen sitter.
When you become very serious you have to hand stitch your own robe out of used cloth for a type of graduation ceremony. This is for intention and humility. As a lay person I’m not sure I’ll get there but I am thinking used fabric, maybe something that could use a stitch here or there, embodies that same intention; so I am now browsing these aisles, grateful this place exists where old vessels can get a new life. I do not know what any of these shirts or pants have been through nor the people who wore them but they have been lovingly washed and pressed and present themselves as opportunity. Upaya is my version of being lovingly washed and pressed.
Any kind of life change, no matter how dramatic, involves a fair amount of every day or mundane tasks like shopping for stretch pants at Goodwill. Doing this readies you for the change ahead. In fact everything readies you for something else. As the Buddha once said about chopping wood before you are enlightened and chopping wood after–the wood always needs chopping but the way you feel about it changes. It’s time for me to find a new ax or learn how to use my old one differently. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know how long I will be there or what, if anything, will change in me. I think uncertainty and being willing to endure it is a big part of the point. The writer/philosopher Terrence McKenna says once you jump into the abyss you land on a feather bed. We’ll see if that holds true for me.
I am halfway there. Soon I will grab the first rung of the ladder which calls to me; “Get on Julie, it will make you happy” and swing myself around to ponder the sky from a new vantage point, literally and metaphorically; and when I do I will be wearing clothes from this Goodwill near my former home with the wide windows and friendly glass where old things find new lives.
More in Voices: Ladder to the Moon – A Story of Starting Over
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