I still cringe
It was November of ’02. I, the desert-dweller, was soon to be departing for a ministry trip to the north of Scotland: Fraserburgh, Inverness, and the Isle of Lewis, roughly equal in latitude to the southern part of Alaska.
The previous winter, my friends Stephanie and Laurie had regaled all of us with hilarious yet startling stories of how absolutely cold they had been on their trip to the same places — how bitterly the wind blew, and how frigid their hosts kept their homes — stories of frozen eyeliner carried around in the pocket of one’s slacks in order for it to thaw enough to be usable; frost on the inside of the bedroom window; of how they bundled in every sweater, coat, hat and scarf they’d brought with them, but how it still wasn’t enough to ward off the cold.
These memories were with me as I prepared for my own trip. My biggest problem: I didn’t own a winter coat. The closest I had was a black leather jacket that had a zip-out thermal liner. I told Steph what I had, and she cautioned me that this wouldn’t be near enough; I had to have a warmer coat. She’d loan me one.
This put me at complete ease. Stephanie is one of the most stylish women I know, quite trendy, always impeccably groomed and dressed from head to toe. Her children dress better than I do. Stephanie would loan me a coat. I was in good hands.
Right before we were to depart, Steph walked up to me in church. In her hands was a masculine-looking, huge, puffy, bright yellow monstrosity of a ski coat, the kind with wide plastic zippers and plastic hooks hanging off of its 30 or so pockets. (It looked rather like the one on the left, but black-on-yellow, instead of yellow-on-black.) I gulped internally. 😯 Obviously, Stephanie was very concerned for my warmth, but this was nothing like I imagined she’d loan to me, or even own for that matter. And, it was nothing like I could have ever imagined myself wearing. Ever. But, for the sake of shielding my tender desert skin from the cold, and because I was leaving for Scotland the next day and had no other options (plus I didn’t want to offend Stephanie and appear/be unthankful), I swallowed my pride, smiled and expressed my thanks and took the coat.
The whole trip, my sights were besieged by properly dressed Scottish women, smartly wearing attractive, double-breasted Burberry coats in a variety of tasteful shades. Each would involuntarily throw a startled, wide-eyed glance my way, then quickly cast her eyes aside, empathically feeling the embarrassment she thought I should be feeling for wearing such a coat in public. “Ugly, loud, American. Shame she doesn’t know how to dress. Poor girl. Ugh. What a coat. What could ever have possessed her to wear such a thing??”
On top of that, the dumb thing was too hot. I steamed in that coat. My leather coat would have been the perfect weight. It wouldn’t have been quite as stylish, but at least it would have been less-conspicuously-inappropriate.
The whole trip was a tremendous lesson in humility.
I still cringe.