Friday, September 3, 2010
White bucks and seersucker
I had planned on attending a conference this past summer that took place in Atlanta, GA. One feature of this annual gathering is a banquet at which a number of us actually attire ourselves semi-formally (the less formally-attired folks often complain that they didn't get the memo). The conference being in the south held, for me, the attraction of being able to don white bucks and a seersucker suit! (of course I would have had to buy them, but that's a different story). Having spent a number of years in the south, I always appreciated the cool, crisp, look that this style presented. Unfortunately, however, a change in the dates of the conference precluded me from attending (and having to purchase a suit and shoes).
We who have spent time in the south know that white bucks and seersucker are appropriate SUMMER wear. Depending on your tradition, men start wearing these clothes as early as Easter, but should STOP wearing them on Labor Day. The fact that Labor Day, the traditional, yet informal, end of summer is upon us reminded me of my misfortune in not being able to, at least once, don those summer duds.
Yet, why was this a matter of concern for me? I haven't LIVED in the south since the mid-90's. I haven't even owned a seersucker suit since before high school! Some of y'all might suspect a bit of vanity on my part, but I could easily dress up without "going southern". As I've reflected on this for the last several days, what occurs to me is that, by dressing in a fashion that is not my normal one, I'm assuming a persona that is not my normal one. And then I began to muse on whether the person I project is the same as the person I am.
I recalled a story--probably from the tradition of the rabbis--about a man who was summoned by God to give an account of his life. The man confessed that he hadn't lived as righteously or faithfully as the heroes of his religion. He had striven to be like them, but had failed. God's response: "You wasted your life! I didn't want you to be like them, but to be fully yourself!"
We live in a culture that suggests that, whoever/whatever we are, we are not good enough as we are. Indeed the culture not only suggests it, our economy depends on that feeling of insufficiency! If we only use the right deodorant or mouthwash, if we only buy the celebrity-endorsed clothing, our self-worth will skyrocket--or our love-life will, at least, improve. And we find ourselves on an increasingly demanding treadmill, never arriving at our true destination: comfort with who we are.
This is not to suggest that I have no room to improve, to become gentler, more generous, more patient. But white bucks and seersucker are not the means to those qualities, or to a truer sense of self, but rather a projection of someone/something else. Perhaps less time in front of a mirror at the store, and more in reflection will bring me to my true self -- to that self God would have me be.
So, as Labor Day arrives, I see an opportunity to put away those (metaphorical, in my case) summer duds, and don the clothes that suit me best, for the life that I lead now.