I’m in Goodwill looking for clothes to fit my new life. It’s a larger store, about half the size of Target with huge windows in front and a silent glass door which gently opens and closes on its own. The light is fantastic. There are no special tricks with colored bulbs or huge fluorescent tubes. It’s almost all 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 its a treasure hunt. When you give it time that’s part of the joy.
On this day the place is packed. It’s a Saturday in Fall and people are gathered around neatly hanging winter coats like people might encircle a fire in the snow. There’s a big buzz too in housewares where single moms and older couples size up rows of mismatched glass widgets; bowls, plates and cups all catching the light and dancing from it 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 afford 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 but you squeeze in for another day hoping you’re just going through a phase. It appears that phase has in fact phased me all the way out. I am so far off that ladder of success that I’m here looking for simple black stretch pants and shirts appropriate for Upaya, a place of community kindly provided by Buddhists who allow you to stay for awhile and try on the life of a serious student and Zazen sitter.
When one becomes 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 picturing that in my future but I am thinking used fabric, maybe something that could use a stitch here or there is that same kind of intention so I am browsing these aisles and being so grateful these places exist 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.
The Buddha has a saying 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 axe 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 though. 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.
However I see the world and my life is the truth for me. After nearly three decades in journalism I am seeing the world defined by its struggles and tragedies and I’m even seeing my own life that way all too often. So it’s time to climb a different ladder, one undefined by monetary success or security,the one which hangs between earth and sky with no defined start or finish, the one which whispers to me, “Get on Julie. It will make you happy.”
I am halfway up. Soon I will grab the first rung 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.