… because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says the Lord.
2 Kings 22.19
Let me confess that I am someone who tends to wear his clothes until they virtually fall apart. My favourite pair of shoes is over 10 years old, and my sweaters weren’t much younger, with most pitted by an assortment of tears, holes and other character-defining features. In fact, it wasn’t until I had a business meeting and noticed one of the attendees fixated on my shredded sleeve that I decided, finally, to replace them.
My first thought for the fate of my trusty companions was a quick burial in the bin. But as the mercury fell dramatically it occurred to me that perhaps a faded or well-worn sweater was better than none, and so I dropped them in the local charity bin. I won’t lie. My heart skipped a little at seeing my trusty steeds put out to pasture, but at least, I reasoned, it was a noble retirement.
As is often the way, however, I thought of those clothes going out into the community and wondered whose home they would join. Would they find their way to a cool retro-hunter keen to show off his thrift shop chic? Would they be part of a workman’s casual wear, perfect for odd jobs around the house? Or would the charity determine that they weren’t fit for duty after all?
Recently, while volunteering at a soup kitchen, a remarkable situation occurred. As I was moving through the crowded hall I noticed an older gentleman shuffling forward. He set himself up at a crowded table and wriggled out of his threadbare jacket. To my surprise, I saw that he was wearing one of my recently discarded sweaters. I recognized the torn sleeve, the holes peeking out beneath the armpits, and the frayed edges all around. I couldn’t help but move towards him, and when he saw me he smiled.
“Check out my new threads,” he said, rubbing his sleeves happily.
“Looking good,” I answered, humbled and abashed.
“Yes," he laughed emphatically. ”Yes, I do."
If there are such things as life-defining moments then that was surely one of them. I will never again take my good fortune for granted, and I will always remember that all gifts matter, be they large or small.
More importantly, I know that I must go out into the world to offer service. Not just to render good to others, but because my soul needs feeding, and there is no greater meal.
Gerry Turcotte is the president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.