“In almost every situation, there are ways that we can fly higher, at fuller wingspan.” ~Marianne Williamson
The following holiday story was first published under the title “Thrift Shop Angel” in The Christian Science Monitor, and is included in my book, Writing Home.
These days, you can’t predict the shoppers you’ll encounter at our local thrift shop. And you probably don’t expect to hear the flutter of angel wings amid the racks of used clothing.
Over the years I’ve frequented resale shops in search of upscale secondhand treasures — the Chanel business suit in mint condition; the Ralph Lauren blazer worn only once. I visit these places because I love a good bargain and I’m intrigued by beautiful vintage clothing. In my holier-than-thou fashion moments, I also like to remind people that I’m not a thoughtless slave to trends, but a link in the recycling chain. And I love the thrill of the hunt.
More often than not, I rub elbows with serious shoppers who aren’t stalking vintage finds or designer labels from Paris. They are the careful spenders who can’t afford to pay top dollar for the latest trends. Some are looking for warm, practical clothing that won’t break the grocery budget, especially during Michigan’s frigid winters.
The week after Thanksgiving last year, I visited one of my favorite thrift stores with the hope of finding a perfect pair of broken-in jeans. Perusing a rack of faded khaki and denim, I overheard another customer at the sales register.
“Is this sweater on sale this week?” the shopper asked hopefully, holding up a gently used cashmere sweater in pastel pink. “I’d like to buy this for my daughter for Christmas, but twenty dollars is more than I can spend.”
The saleswoman behind the counter examined the price tag and shook her head. No, the sweater wasn’t on sale that week — only the blue tags were half off — and it wouldn’t be marked down until next month.
Within seconds another shopper spoke up: “Please, let me buy that sweater for you,” she said. “I woke up feeling blessed today, and I want to pass it on.”
The entire shop fell silent, as if every customer in it had been momentarily stunned. It was, after all, a very brave and uncommon thing to do – asking a stranger if she’d let you buy her a cashmere sweater.
During the season of giving, most of us gladly donate what we can to various charities or mission projects overseas. It’s easy to scribble a check to a faceless organization whose needy we will never meet. Likewise, staying at an anonymous distance, we clean out our closets and bundle up our old clothes, then drop them in boxes outside the church social hall.
Somewhat reluctantly, the woman who wanted the pink sweater agreed to let the stranger purchase it for her. But her gratitude was sincere and palpable, and the whole store seemed to breathe again. A heartwarming conversation about real-life goodness followed, and before long, all of us remaining in the shop were fighting tears. I dried my eyes on a pair of vintage Calvins I’d just discovered.
Composing myself, I walked up to the counter, hoping for closer look at the generous soul who’d just bought a cashmere sweater for someone she’d never met. I wanted to thank her for rekindling the holiday spirit I thought I’d lost in the seasonal frenzy of shopping, housecleaning, and baking.
Photo by Cindy La Ferle