The Old Grey Sportcoat

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I just finished a coaching session with a newish client. Today we did a check-in, to see how he thinks he is doing, whether we are on a good track still, and what he thought he had learned and been able to put to use. It’s a standard part of the process, these check-ins and mostly they are good and useful. This one was no exception.

As we were winding up, he said, offhandedly, “I notice you always wear a dark grey sportcoat when we meet.”  And he left it at that.

The truth is, I do.  I have for 35-40 years now. I wear a dark grey sport coat to church and business meetings, and I wear the same dark grey sportcoat when I am just out and about in my jeans and flannel.

It’s not the best fitting sport coat in the world.  I would say that it almost fits. That’s because I buy them at places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army stores. I could afford to get them pretty much anywhere, and I do actually have some suits that fit like they are tailored to me, because they were. But not the grey sportcoat that I wear 95% of the time.

Like most things in my life, there is a story to it.

There was a time in my life when I was just out and out poor. The kind of poor where I more than once had to choose between buying food and paying the rent, between gas for the car so I could work, or medicine I needed.  Where a brake job on my car sent me into a financial panic.

It wasn’t a long period of my life, but it will never leave me. I don’t want it to leave me. I’ve been fortunate overall in my life. I’ve had some great years, not so great years, times of unemployment and times of good fortune.  But except for those few years, I’ve always been “OK”.

And after that experience, OK is good enough. I have learned over the years that I don’t need much to be happy.  And so I’ve generally been happy with life. Always wanting to move forward, but always able to live life without envy or caring what other people had that I do not.

I have enough. I am grateful.

And I remember what it was like to not have enough. It will never leave me. One of the things that I used to do, is that as soon as I got a paycheck, I ran to the grocery store to buy food, so no matter what else, I’d have food for the next two weeks.  I still tend to do that. It’s never left me.

Looking back, I am glad I went through it, but for me it was temporary. I learned what it was like to be poor, to have a better understanding that being poor has nothing to do with being lazy or no good or trailer trash or any of the other epithets and cutesy but mean things people tend to say about the poor.

What it does mean is a terrible anxiety. A closeness. A constant worry.  Sometimes shame. You feel helpless and often you are. People are, generally, not kind to the poor. The poor are not, generally, listened to. You become invisible. You can’t see your way out and it’s crippling. I never want to forget that.

And my old grey sportcoats are part of my reminder. I’m the kind that needs reminders. My mind dashes off this way and that and I have enthusiasms and projects galore. I focus on something and it’s easy for me to lose sight of other things, important things.

Reminders help me. Look around my house and even my person, and they are everywhere. I have a small brass bookmark affixed to the center of my desk with a quote from Winston Churchill that reads “Never, never, never give up.”. A great quote for me and my journey. I have a shield and cross that hangs around my neck that has Joshua 1:9 engraved on the back of it. It reads: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord God will be with you where ever you go.”  Those, and half a dozen other things that surround me each have their story, and having them around, always reminding me of the story, and the lesson, has value for me.

As does my old grey sport coat. I have bought a new one once or twice, but I have to tell you, I felt poorer for the nicer sportscoat. I was glad to get back to my Goodwill brand jacket. I wear it not in pride, but in remembrance to be kinder, no matter what and no matter to whom. It would be nice to not need that reminder, but I seem to.  And I cling to them.

So now you know. Life is full of symbols, and my sport coat, which is immensely practical, like a woman’s purse, is also practical for my soul. It keeps me warm, physically and spiritually.

Be well.

Tom

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