Clair’s Uncommon Path to Serenity

Clutching the keys tightly in her hand, Clair turned to exit the bleachers but she could not move.

The person blocking her path at the balcony door of St. Jude’s church was a wretched looking woman dressed in a faded blue cotton housedress, which was much too big for the malnourished body inside.

The woman’s hair needed washing, maybe even a good cut with sharp scissors. And where was her coat, her boots? Her hands were red and raw with cold. There was a blizzard brewing outside. Nothing between her and the storm but that flimsy dress. Could she be homeless, seeking refuge in the church? Clair knew her saints. St. Jude was the patron saint of desperate causes. This woman qualified for shelter.

“Excuse me,” Clair pleaded, “I need to get by you.” An hour ago, Clair had forgotten her car keys in the balcony of the church during the fundraiser for the youth center. The teens in Clair’s charge were outside in the whipping snow, waiting for her to take them home. Those children needed attention some of them required constant supervision. Every moment they were alone out in the storm added to Clair’s urgency and heightened her anxiety.

The woman gazed steadily into Clair’s eyes. When she spoke, her voice was weak as if she had no energy. “You promised me some time.”

“I couldn’t have,” Clair shot back, incredulous. “I don’t even know you.”

If the woman had been a parent of one of the children, surely Clair would make time for her. But she was a stranger. Maybe she had mistaken Clair for someone else.

The woman’s eyes were weary pools.  Clearly, this person had problems. But who didn’t?

Perhaps Clair should just tell the woman what’s going on in her life. The kids, their parents, the youth center, the snow. She wanted to scream, “For crying out loud, my husband has Parkinson’s disease and the symptoms are getting worse! He’s home alone.” Should she explain to the woman that after she transports the kids safely home, she has to hurry home and make dinner. Her husband will be worried about her driving in the snow. What kind of person would demand Clair’s time? Was she thoughtless or just plain rude?

“Really, I’m in a hurry,” Clair enunciated slowly, as if the woman didn’t understand English. “I need to leave.”

“But you did,” the woman insisted. “You promised . . . before it’s too late.” That sounded ominous. Clair wondered if the woman was sick and needed assistance. Never mind, someone else would have to help her.

“I am sorry. I just can’t. Maybe another time?”

The woman shook her head. “No,” she said softly. Then she reached deep into her dress pocket, and Clair flinched, fearing she might have a knife or a gun. Instead she pulled out two shoe soles with holes punched ½-inch apart around the edges. Clair frowned as she accepted the soles. How odd. How frustrating. She was sure the woman had lost her mind. Why wasn’t someone watching after her?

Down below, a youth band played hard-core music on the main floor of the church, and Clair felt a dizzy spell, vertigo, approaching from the back of her head. This happened often when she was stressed or confronted with unresolvable conflicts. She leaned against the railing, gripping the keys. She’d forgotten them once today and she didn’t want to lose them. There was a lot at stake here. If she didn’t get the kids home in time, their parents would doubt her competence. The good will and funding she and the kids had worked so hard to build would vanish. Clair rubbed her forehead and caught the scent of Tea Tree oil on the back of her hand.

A few minutes earlier, when Clair had run from the snowstorm into the vestibule of St. Jude’s, two girls greeted her from behind a table filled with glass bottles of essential oils for sale. Clair had stopped for just one critical second to encourage the young entrepreneurs. One of the girls had pressed a dab of Tea Tree oil on Clair’s cold hand. “That one’s for peace and calming, Clair. Isn’t it nice?”

Maybe if she hadn’t stopped, she would not have encountered the impasse that now blocked her way.

The woman reached into her pocket again, this time producing two shoe tops with matching holes. She handed the glossy, bright yellow leather pieces to Clair. Oh you are kidding! Clair groaned under her breath. At the same time she understood that the only way to get this encounter over with was to let the woman continue.

“I want you to sew the tops of the shoes to the bottoms, using this thread,” the woman explained, revealing a spool of finely textured sage green metallic thread.

“Stitch the soles to the tops matching the holes,” the woman continued. “Begin at the heel and work all the way around to the toe. Then do the same starting at the toe back to the heel.” Ah! Clair thought, after all that work, these shoes will be worth a lot of money. Maybe the woman was going to donate the finished product to the youth center’s annual auction. That would make this worthwhile.

The hard-core music was replaced by the gentle sounds of St. Jude’s pipe organ pumping out “Amazing Grace.”

Clair asked herself, Wasn’t that hymn played at funerals and memorials?

Although she knew almost nothing about sewing, Clair was unexpectedly intrigued by the woman’s supplication and the precious materials in front of her. She visualized herself sitting for hours, maybe days, in a chair by a sunny window, filling those holes with the finely spun thread. This was a complicated and demanding request. But there was something so mysteriously beautiful and humble about it that Clair felt warm tears of gratitude filling her eyes and running down her cold cheeks.

Maybe she would make time to work on the shoes after all.

The woman was not finished. Clair leaned in closer, concentrating on the detailed instructions.

“I want you to sew around each of the 24 lace holes, first from left to right and then again, right to left. Even though Clair was still aware that the kids were waiting in the storm, her heart thumped with anticipation. She held her keys, the shoe bodies, the soles and the metallic thread tightly to her chest and asked herself, who is this woman and why did she choose me for this job?

The woman turned ready to leave. She shuffled past Clair and whispered in her ear, “This way I will get your time.”

Watching the woman slowly disappear into the shadows, Clair felt a tug of sadness. She ran after the woman, and asked, “Why did you ask me to do this?” The bells of St. Jude rang out loudly and Clair jerked awake to the insistent peal of her alarm clock. She noticed the camphorous scent of Tea Tree oil that had spilled on her bedside table. The spicey aroma triggered an odd sensation, a hollowness that was not a hunger, but more a melancholic yearning. Clair looked across the bed where her husband was sleeping. Because of his Parkinson’s, he had trouble sleeping at night. It was good to see him completely peaceful and relaxed.

As usual, Clair spent a few minutes looking up at the ceiling, mentally reviewing her commitments for the day. At nine o’clock she would go with her husband to his doctor appointment. The grant proposal for the youth center was due in two days. She had to collect all the letters of support today. She’d made an appointment for a haircut, but that conflicted with the meeting in the Mayor’s office regarding the new skateboard park, which was to be included in the proposal.

If I work on that grant proposal, I’ll have to skip Yoga again. Oh well, no one will miss me there. And that lunch with her friends? Now that’s a luxury that I can postpone.

At that thought, she could hear her husband’s frequent admonition, “You know you have a habit of scheduling four things at a time,” he’d say. “Then you wind up canceling three of them.”

Time to get breakfast started. Clair hurried across the room. But, as she passed in front of the full-length mirror, she caught a glimpse of herself and was stunned.

Why hadn’t she noticed before? Her hair was straggly, her faded blue nightgown torn. Her eyes were red and weary. Had she been crying? Clair could barely breathe as she stared at her reflection and memories of last night’s dream began streaming back to her—the abandoned kids in the blizzard, the desperate woman with unkempt hair and the threadbare blue dress, the yellow shoes, the soles, the metallic thread and the forgotten keys.

You promised me some time, the woman had pleaded. And, how did she treat the woman? Thoughtlessly. Rudely. No wonder Clair felt sad when she walked away. She had gone after the woman, asked her who she was, but then the bells rang and her alarm went off.

She’d heard the message a million times—Take care of yourself—especially since her husband’s diagnosis and her decision to work with at-risk youth. But that statement was stale background noise that never meant much to her—until this moment.

Years ago, Clair had taken a course in dream analysis. She pulled her old text books from the shelf above her desk and began to analyze the meaning of her dream. Clair felt it was the least she owed the poor woman in the blue dress.

Sitting comfortably in a chair by a sunny window, Clair read her first discovery out loud. “To see a church from a distance predicts a happy solution to a problem that has oppressed you. A setting inside a church portends an encounter of a distressing nature, could be a funeral in the near future.”

“Encounters in a balcony indicate integration with the Higher Self or soul.” The obvious struck Clair like an electric shock. Her eyes widened and she felt a tingle of joy at her initial findings. “Amazing Grace.” Clair could hear the ending strains of the verse, saved a wretch like me.

The wretch of a woman in the blue dress was Clair’s Higher Self. Clair’s desperate, malnourished soul was literally dying to get some of Clair’s time.

When she read, “Weeping in a dream signifies that you will have unusual happiness,” Clair was confident she was on the right track.

Hours later, feeling renewed and satisfied with her accomplishment, Clair reviewed her analysis of the dream.

The malnourished woman stood by the keys that Clair needed to proceed. But Clair could only hold the keys, unable to use them until she’d listened to the woman’s request. The keys are the shoe bodies, the soles, the thread, the colors and the kids. Those are the symbols that unlock the meaning of Clair’s dream. Once she learns the keys, she’ll never forget them again.

Just as a shoe’s body must be firmly attached to its sole, our souls must be integrated with our bodies. Because the woman was Clair’s soul, she knew what appealed to Clair’s senses and what kind of tasks would inspire her. Clair had given her time to the children, the programs and her husband, but that was not enough to nurture her soul.

She would have to take conscious action to make her self whole. Otherwise she would be without a soul—lacking in vital energy and identity.

The color yellow symbolizes enlightenment and optimism. The fabric was important too. The soft leather is supple and flexible, as Clair must be. The holes in the body as well as the soul must be securely bound with wisdom and serenity, represented by the color of sage and the sparkle and energy of the metallic thread.

Tea Tree oil signified two portals—the entrance to the church and Clair’s confrontation and the threshold of Clair’s awakening and illumination.

Shoes have ties too! Clair realized her ties, or connections, were waning. She thought about all the times she had cancelled events with family and friends, because she was so busy with work. For instance, just this morning she automatically canceled her haircut, yoga, and the lunch with friends.

The kids in the blizzard, like all the characters in her dream, were parts of Clair. The kids represented her child self. The reason she was suddenly distracted by the woman’s appeal and the shoe materials was because she knew that completion of the woman’s task was necessary to save her self. She could not take the kids home until she brought her soul back home.

Clair considered buying the pieces to make the yellow shoes. She imagined placing the finished shoes, as an inspiration, on her long-forgotten writing desk under the eaves. Instead, Clair knew exactly how to accomplish her dreams and simultaneously nourish her soul. She had never given herself the time to pursue it.

After yoga class, Clair moved a chair up to her desk. Poised in front of the blank computer screen, she smiled and told herself, now is the time.

Clair began typing a story with an unusual dedication.

To My Soul, Please Come Home

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