I bought a Burberry trench coat in 2010. It was a costly purchase meant to last for years. Indeed, it was very well made and kept out the rain and the cold (as well as cold can be kept out). With the collar up, it gave me the dramatic appearance of a World War II spy. People often said they recognized me from a distance because of the coat.
In the years following, the Burberry (and I) endured a great deal. It was smoke-damaged in a fire, requiring fifteen dry cleanings to get the smell out (and unfortunately, the dye too). I had a mishap in a taxi and ripped a pocket on a protruding bolt. There were other instances of wear-AND-tear, and after several years, I had to admit, it was starting to look somewhat ratty. Mended, frayed, and faded, no self-respecting WWII spy would have been risked being seen in it.
Recently a clerk in Walgreens commented, ‘I really like that coat!’ I said the Burberry had seen better days and I thought it needed replacing. ‘No, sir, don’t do that!’ the clerk said. ‘That coat has history! That coat has tales to tell.’ I’ve been in two or three times since; he always remarks on the trench coat.
It is a very good lesson. Suddenly, I have an entirely different appreciation of that trench coat. It isn’t ratty–it’s historic. What it lacks in original wholeness is made up for in earned character. More than a bit of waterproofed cloth, it is a witness to a poignant time in my life. I wore it through failure; it was the mantle I wore to unexpected triumphs as well.
The Burberry itself was no different after the clerk made his wise observations. What changed was my perspective.
We can change our perspectives. Instead of seeing ‘old people’, we can see people with experience. Instead of physically and mentally wounded people, we can understand them to be survivors. Without being sickeningly Pollyanna-ish, failures can become lessons, and perhaps what was meant to be achieved was not our desired result, but what we learnt in the process of failing.
Some of my readers know that I have both physical and mental disabilities. I don’t like these conditions and I would be happy to be without them, but I do not see them as ‘enemies’. By accepting them as they are, it is easier to deal with their temperamental qualities. ‘This is what changes in the season do to my body. Adapt.’ ‘This is what PTSD and depression do, Learn to deal with the upheavals. They actually mean something positive–I went through something awful and didn’t break or die.’
Living on a disgracefully small fixed income (It’s appalling how the government cares for its elderly and disabled) has given me an opportunity to become materially creative. It has even influenced the way I interact with people and retain my sense of self-respect. That hasn’t been easy–I’m still learning. In learning to prioritize in one area of my life, I’ve been able to prioritize other areas as well, and let go of things and people that were in one way or another destructive, no matter how much I liked them or thought I needed them.
We often forget there really are two aspects to any situation. We learn by adapting our perspectives and our responses.
My Burberry is a good and thought-provoking teacher.
Paul TN Chapman
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