Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It's a thing

My mother-in-law was a fashion designer.
(Can you feel the weight of that concept? Did you gasp? It was a Big Deal.)

She was a woman who knew clothes, style, fashion. I was, the first time we met, a 19-year-old who wore boys jeans and button-down shirts, who had gone to a private, all-girls high school where I wore a grey skirt and navy blazer throughout adolescence and never developed a grasp on fashion.

I was far more concerned about that than she was. Sometimes she made clothes for me or gave me samples from her workroom. There was no pressure to wear them and no sense of obligation.

"It's a thing," she would say. "It's a rag, that's all. A piece of fabric."

She wasn't being self-deprecating. This was her view: No matter what it looked like, it was, at its core, a rag. It reminds of the story about Ajahn Chah and his favorite mug; when challenged by his students about his preference for a particular mug, he explained that while he appreciated it, he knew it was already broken. Everything is subject to impermanence, and nothing -- not clothes, not mugs, not people -- goes on forever or is unchanged.

Helen, who would have been 97 on April 4, taught me that clothes should be fun, should make you feel good, should express your view.

What does this have to do with responsible consumption and my pledge to buy no new clothes for this month? As I've pondered my reasons for buying clothes, even looked through websites for pictures of clothes for blog posts, I find my mantra is: "It's a thing."

It's a thing, a rag-in-waiting, a curiosity. It's not lasting happiness, not love, not liberation. Failing to see that leads to suffering.

And hammer pants.

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