Standing out from the Crowd

There are many different ways to tell a story. This is a delight for those of us who like to tell stories, but it can be a challenge when writing because many stories have multiple starting points. Which part of the story should I tell first? I don’t always tell stories in strict chronological order. Sometimes it is fun to have a flash back or a look forward. However, perhaps I will go back in time several decades to begin this story.

When I was in the last year of high school or one of the first years of college, I attended the annual meeting of what was then called the Montana Conference of the United Church of Christ. The meeting was held in Missoula, Montana, which is 260 miles from my home town. If I was in college, which I think was the case, it is 340 miles from our college town. At the time, it would have been a significant road trip for me. I don’t remember how I got there, but it is likely I drove one of my parents’ cars. At any rate, one of the things I remember about the meeting is that I had a brightly colored caftan that I thought made me look quite counter-cultural. It wasn’t the kind of thing that one usually wore to a church meeting, where the pastors and many of the lay participants were dressed up in their Sunday best, mostly suits and ties and dresses. It was a time of war protests and would have been right around the time that I had registered for the draft and was uncertain about whether or not I would be drafted. What I remember is that I dressed intentionally to stand out, looking like a hippie even though I wasn’t sure what a hippie was. It was years ago and I don’t remember all of the details, but I do remember dressing so that I would stand out from the crowd.

Years later, when I was a minister with years of experience behind me, some of the youth in our conference were planning a dance for a youth event. They said they wanted to have a semi-formal dance. I didn’t know what semi-formal meant. They informed me that the women wore dresses and the men wore dress shirts and ties, sometimes the guys would wear sports coats. “Oh,” I said, “like I dress to go to work every day?” The answer was, “Yes!” I wore ties to work for many, many years and even though casual dress became more and more common toward the end of my career I continued to always wear dress shirts and ties for Sunday worship.

Still more years later, when I was very near to the end of my career and my retirement was a topic of conversation in the church I was serving, a good friend of mine died from pancreatic cancer. He had undergone all kinds of treatments and had beat the odds by surviving longer than the doctors predicted, but all of the surgeries and chemotherapy and radiation treatments finally brought him to a point from which he could no longer recover. After his funeral, his widow invited me to come over to their home and she made a gift to me of several of his suits, sport coats, and dress shirts. We were similar in size before he became ill, so the suits fit without need of alteration. It was a significant addition to my wardrobe. He was quite a clothes horse, loving to shop for clothing. He was an attorney who practiced in the federal courts and had reason to wear good looking suits often. He, like me, was a wearer of bow ties and one of the things we had done at his funeral was that many of his colleagues and friends had worn bow ties in his honor. I was one of the few at the gathering who knew how to tie bow ties, and before the service I tied several for prominent lawyers and judges in our town.

Suddenly my closet was filled with a lot of very nice suits. However, shortly afterward I retired and then the pandemic hit. I didn’t wear a suit for nearly three years. In the meantime, we moved twice and I considered getting rid of some of those suits. After all, my new lifestyle wouldn’t require dressing up very often. And, in addition, the move to the west coast meant we would be living in a place where formal dress was much less common. People don’t dress up to attend church around here.

Now, to tell my story accurately, I need to depart from strict chronological order. Throughout my adult life, I have struggled with being overweight. I have always been very active, but I also have always enjoyed eating good and sometimes rich food. I like cookies and pies and ice cream and all kinds of high calorie treats. One of my goals for retirement was to form some new habits around eating and lose some weight to help maintain my health and vigor. After Susan had a health scare in 2019 we started walking every day. We’ve formed new habits and have only missed a handful of days in nearly 3 1/2 years since. The exercise has been good for our health, both physically and psychologically. However, I continued to persist in my eating habits and gained a few pounds after retirement. Then, late last winter, I developed a heart rhythm problem. It was diagnosed quickly and I had a procedure which corrected the problem. But it was enough to get my attention. I decided that Lent this year was a perfect time to make some new habits and began a program of being very intentional about my eating. I also added a routine of a yoga workout before bedtime. The result has been successful. I now weigh less than I did at my retirement and I am feeling good. What is more, I fit into those suits even better than before.

So, in celebration of feeling good, and with a nod to the way I dressed for worship for decades of my life, I wore a suit and dress shirt with a snappy red tie to worship yesterday. I decided that here in the Pacific Northwest in the progressive United Church of Christ, such formal dress was every bit as counter-cultural as my hippie clothes had been when I was a teenager. I was definitely the only person at that service who was dressed in a suit and tie. Maybe my life has come full circle.

Regardless, it felt good to wear that suit and to feel comfortable with my weight. Even though I know it will make me stand out, I'm likely to dress up for church again.

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