Sunday, November 16, 2014
A Day in November
Like Christmas, one of my favorite days of the year comes but once in twelve months. Yesterday was the day I made my annual trek to my favorite Boston book fair. This exhibit is small and highly curated with only the most intriguing books and paper, including old letters and journals. I especially love the children's books. I saw a full collection of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne series - the same books my grandparents brought me from Prince Edward Island when I was a girl. I would have saved them had I known my set would become so valuable one day. I pawed my way through first editions of Nancy Drew with their colorful 1930's dust jackets. Nancy was so chic as she, George, and Bess strolled into the Lilac Inn to solve that mystery. My fingers brushed across the spines of Cherry Ames, Sue Barton, and Trixie Beldon...all pre-teen favorites. I read a few ancient letters and poked through some marvelous old photographs.
A lot of commerce transpires at this book fair and I've been lucky enough to go home with some lovely things over the years - but not this time. Prices have risen and I am being cautious. After our early dinner, my friend and I strolled through one of the most upscale and elite malls in the country - The Copley Place Mall. I know this mall intimately as I once had a job with offices ensconced on the third floor above the shops. The only thing that has changed since I left that job is that the mall has become even more expansive and decadent. Only the most exclusive shops have real estate at The Copley Place Mall - dark and delicious chocolate emporiums, Italian leather handbag stores, and be still my heart, a gorgeous French lingerie shop. It was almost too "too" and after peeking into a few stores and watching enormous amounts of credit and cash exchanges, I noticed I was beginning to feel a little sorry for myself. I WANTED that cozy oatmeal cashmere lounging outfit for $750. I NEEDED that butter-soft red Italian handbag with the petite brass acorn-shaped clasp that cost what my parent's paid for their first house.
Usually I find browsing delightfully inspiring. I love looking at the way stylists put together ensembles for store's windows. I will often take pictures discreetly with my cell phone to remember the unique way colors and patterns are mixed. I get ideas for writing my style column with these images: it keeps me relevant and helps with trend-spotting even if I cannot afford to buy. But this time, a cloud fell over me with the excess and exorbitance. It was all too much and I was overcome with a stifling and urgent need to escape. As my friend and I headed for the escalators and back to the train station, I suddenly noticed an Asian family huddled close on a small marble bench in the center of the mall near a three-story waterfall. I saw the father figure bent down on one knee before the bench where I presumed his two small children, wife and mother-in-law were sitting. All heads were bowed. All hands were touching. Their eyes were squeezed shut. They were praying. I certainly don't know why - it may have been a benediction before having a meal or perhaps they were taking a break from someone's bedside in one of the numerous city hospitals nearby. I wondered about them even as the crowd pushed us ever forward towards the overstuffed escalators filled with people carrying enormous crinkling shopping bags. But so moved was I to see that tender private family moment in the middle of all the handbags, trinkets and clothes of my dreams. As we glided slowly down the escalator, elbow to elbow, I lifted my head above the throng to see if I could get a last glimpse the small family but they had disappeared.
Now I'm not going to tell you I had a big epiphany or that I am banning beautiful exclusive shopping meccas in the future. But being touched to the core by the poignant image of the praying family, I started to examine areas of my life where I need to slow down and connect in more meaningful ways. On the long train ride home, I began to make a mental list for some casual suppers I will host for loved ones soon, and other ways I can be kind, generous. Available. I made a promise to myself to read more inspiring things and not just the free fashion tomes I receive from publishers. And I will remember that it is not always the dress I am wearing but the woman inside the dress that I should be most concerned with.
When I arrived home, I quickly scribbled down some of the things I had seen in Boston: the books, the love letters, the trees at dusk that flank Copley Square's beautiful old Trinity Church. And yes, the supple leather handbags and silk scarves. And I wrote about that dear family with heads bowed in a hushed evocation all their own. After I put out the downstairs lights, I reached for my grandmother's afghan to wrap about me as I stepped onto the porch for a last moment at the end of a long day. Outside, the night was still and quiet...as if in prayer itself.