Years ago, a girl was given a hat. While the giver meant well, it was the ugliest hat the girl had ever seen. She knew she’d never wear it, but, having been taught to be polite, she sincerely thanked the giver for his kindness.
This was long before the girl realized that it was okay not to keep a gift if she really didn’t like it (provided she was subtle and tactful in its disposal or re-gifting). So the girl relegated it to the top shelf of her closet. When she moved across the country, it was stuffed into a box, and it traveled with her from state to state until both girl and hat reached their destination.
We humans spend entirely too much time clinging to unwanted things. They weigh us down. They slow us down.
There’s no need to describe the hat in question, because ugly for one person may not be ugly for another. Know this: It was well-made. It was warm. Beyond that, it is probably best if you just imagine your version of the world’s most unappealing hat.
The packing box that housed the hat joined several others that the girl never quite got around to unpacking. This was a collection of things she didn’t really need or want, but that she hesitated to part with. This sad hat was just one more element in a pile of useless guilt clutter that we all seem to carry around with us so as not to hurt people’s feelings.
Years went by. During that time, the girl was going through several emotional growth spurts, and was beginning to view the world through a different lens. Having finally clawed her way out of desperate poverty, she became more aware of her good fortune and unearned privilege, even as she bore witness to the unmet needs of others at every turn.
The girl came to realize that if something in your life can languish in a box for years, then all it’s doing is taking up space. She was surrounded by useless stuff. But this stuff didn’t have to be useless. None of this stuff asked to take on the role of the albatross around her neck. It began to feel as though she were holding these things hostage, or preventing them from realizing their full potential. It was time to set them free.
When the hat finally returned to the light of day, the girl discovered that it wasn’t really that ugly. It was just not her style. Not even a little bit.
The hat was in excellent shape, and surely someone out there would love to have it. With winter rapidly approaching, and so many people desperately trying to keep warm while living on the streets, the hoarding of this hat began to feel like a criminal act to her.
Several dozen homeless people passed by her office every night. She watched that parade of desperation and, due to her inaction, felt complicit in a world too cruel and selfish to face up to its own yawning privation. So, one bitterly cold evening, she took the hat to work. The girl pinned a sign to the hat which said, “Free to anyone in need. Stay warm!”
She folded the hat neatly and placed it on a clean and sheltered curb in front of her office door. She felt as though she were sending her only child off to college. It was an odd sensation.
“Live your best life,” she told the hat by way of farewell, and then she returned to her nice warm office and set to work.
Between tasks, she wondered what would become of the hat. She hoped it would go to someone whose need for warmth was particularly acute. She wondered if she’d see it some day on the head of one of the many marchers in the desperation parade. This hat might be destined to save someone’s life.
But its legacy might be more humble. Perhaps it would simply go to a scholarship student who needed a little warmth while walking back to the dormitory. Maybe the hat would worm itself into the student’s quirky little heart on the way. There would be no shame in that, either.
What if no one took it? She worried about that. How sad it would be to leave work at the end of the shift, only to discover that the hat had languished there for 8 hours, waiting for its life to begin. It would have been rejected, again and again, by the various passersby. That would be a fate worse than being shut away and neglected for years.
But the girl needn’t have worried. When she left work, she was pleased to find that the hat was gone. She would never know the rest of the story, just as we can never know what happens to any of the people or things that we set free.
She sent well wishes skyward, hoping they might accompany the hat on its new journey. She knew she couldn’t change the entire world, but at least one person would not be quite as cold on this night. The hat was gift of warmth and comfort for someone who was out in the cold. That was a start.
Whether that warmth and comfort lasted for more than an evening was not for her to decide. She wanted to think that it would last a season or a lifetime. But in the end, that would be up to the hat and its wearer.
Stay warm and well, Dear Reader. Winter is coming. Please share any hats and coats and gloves that you don’t need with the wider world.
Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!