For some reason on a recent Saturday, I found myself in an old, plaid flannel shirt. I’m not sure why I still have it. I may have tried to let go of it a while back, but somehow it snuck its way back into my closet. It was just the right amount of warmth and cozy for this Minnesota winter day.
This shirt has been in my closet for 20 years. (What in the world?!) I wore it for my senior pictures. (Again, what in the world?!?) It looks pretty good for being around that long. Not too faded or worn. (If you are in the market for a flannel shirt, check out L.L. Bean. Their shirts are quality.) The shirt is still too big for me, but I guess that is how we wore everything back in 1995. Times have changed.
As I puttered around in that old flannel shirt, I thought back to who I was 20 years ago. 20 years ago, I was full of ideas and passion and ideals. The future was wide open. I had a plan and knew what I was going to be when I grew up. The plan was lost a long time ago and replaced with a new plan, which was also lost. Now I don’t have a plan. The future is still wide open. This is both exhilarating and embarrassing. I’m letting go of the embarrassed. I am thankful that I am still becoming. Maybe, I can even hope that the future will still be wide open 20 years from now. Today, I still have ideas. Sometimes I still am full of passion, when I am not too worn out. And now many of my ideals have changed, or at least the way that I hold onto them has changed.
I think back to the friends who knew me when I wore this shirt because it was the fashionable (?) thing to do. Some of these friendships have stayed with me. Friends who knew and loved me then, know and love me now. These friendships teach me to do the same. Even though we have all evolved over the years, these are friendships that just feel good and right and comfortable. Kind of like my cozy shirt here. It is good to be known. And still loved. And it is good to feel connected, even after long absences, to those who knew the girl in this big, flannel shirt.
That girl has changed. Not unrecognizably so. But significantly.
Sometimes, when I look at pictures of the girl who wore that flannel shirt, I feel a hint of embarrassment. Not just because she wore a flannel shirt for senior pictures. (Didn’t everyone in 1995?) But because of the way that she was so awkward and shy sometimes. Because she thought, acted, and spoke in ways that I would no longer think, act, or speak. Because she thought she had so much figured out. I stumbled across a school photo just a few days ago. My first inclination was to shove it quickly into a closet. But I stopped. I paused to soak in the image of a long-ago me. To feel gentleness and compassion toward who I was at the time. To send her love. And in doing so, I was sending that love somewhere deep inside of myself, shushing the embarrassment. I was practicing grace.
I am realizing that I can do this to the me of last week and even to the me of ten minutes ago. I can offer grace and love.
Sometimes I have a hard time believing that the girl who used to wear this flannel shirt is still me–the me that I am today. I suppose that someday, I will feel that same way about the 38-year-old woman who dug her old flannel shirt out of the closet to wear on a cold winter day. We might not know each other yet, but I look forward to the process.
To Come Home to Yourself
May all that is unforgiven in you
May your fears yield
Their deepest tranquilities.
May all that is unlived in you
Blossom into a future
Graced with love.
~ John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us