When I was in my late teens, I heard Dolly Parton’s song, Coat of Many Colors and it landed softly on my heart. I was captivated by the message that it conveyed about the love that was woven into that patchwork coat and one’s perspective on life.
That song spurred my imagination and I conjured up a “Coat with Many Pockets.” It was an imaginary coat, pale pink in color and floor length. The coat was adorned with pockets of all shapes, sizes and colors inside and out and even on the sleeves and collar. Each pocket was intended to hold a memory or words of wisdom that would help guide me through life. Just creating this coat in my mind brought me a tremendous amount of comfort and hope. You see, I’d spent my childhood and teen years in constant turmoil and I sorely needed some reassurance that one day I would have a stable, happy life. I also had a very real awareness that I’d have to seek out the guideposts and encouragement that would help me achieve that. I was in search of good examples and worthy role models.
In a heart-shaped pocket on the inside of my coat, I placed warm memories of my beloved Aunt Betz. I chose to carry her close to my heart because she was the epitome of a loving mother in my eyes.
I was so blessed to have Aunt Betz in my life as I was growing up. Each visit to her home was like being in a fairy tale and a welcome reprieve from my childhood dysfunction. She would run a warm bath for me, scented with Calgon and leave me two big fluffy pink towels, a bathrobe and slippers. She’d make me tea and cinnamon toast cut into thin strips and play board games with me. She taught me to cook and bake and always had a cute apron at the ready. She is the one who instilled in me a love of word puzzles. She’d write Pennsylvania across the top of a sheet of paper and tell me to make as many words out of those letters as possible. All the while, she’d be preparing dinner and humming a tune. She would marvel at the long list of words I compiled and place shiny colored stars on the top. Once a year, I would get to stay with my aunt, uncle and their two sons at Rehoboth Beach for a whole week. It was the most magical vacation, full of love, laughter and sun-drenched days on the beach. This easy flow of a happy family became the image for my own future.
Throughout my twenties I tucked many words of encouragement and nuggets of wisdom into the pockets of my imaginary coat.
Harry Stacks, the editor of the Intelligencer Journal (local Lancaster County newspaper) and my first boss saw that I was capable of more than the minor secretarial duties he had for me. He offered me an opportunity to write articles for the women’s section of the daily newspaper. I never forgot his generosity in allowing me to explore my potential. I tucked that in a pocket of my coat and gave it a hearty pat.
Sometimes I would meet a person on the train from Lancaster to Philadelphia when I would take my infant son for his eye appointments at Children’s Hospital. That kind person would offer me some advice or assurance just when I needed it most. What anxious young mother doesn’t find comfort from an older mother offering hope and support? You bet — I tucked that in the very pocket I would warm my shaking hands in.
By now you can probably tell that my coat with many pockets is filled with love, encouragement, comfort and hope — random acts of kindness from people I have loved and from total strangers. Little did they know that they made a lasting impression on me. For many I am sure that they had no idea what I was facing in my life when they offered me their words of wisdom.
I met a Indian gentleman named Patel on a plane years ago that spent a generous hour sharing with me that “If you do good, you will get good. If you do bad, you will suffer.” He stressed that it was possible to meditate anywhere and to always be respectful of others.” I jotted down everything he said to me on the notes section of my iPhone and yes, tucked the memory of our time together in a pocket of my coat. It was at the onset of my mindfulness and meditation journey and his conversation felt like a nudge in the right direction. I remember a feeling of such peace as we chatted on that plane.
Once I was sitting alone having dinner on birthday and an older gentleman stopped by my table and told me I looked beautiful and to “keep care”. He had the same blue eyes that Skip had and I have never anyone other than Skip say “keep care.” That brief encounter touched my heart in a very tender way.
I’d been thinking a lot about my coat with many pockets recently and the comfort it has brought me over the years. People come in and out of our lives — some briefly and some much longer. If we are lucky, some leave an indelible impression that will carry us for a very long time.
Random acts of kindness may not be so “random” after all. Perhaps others can feel when we need a little life boost, or some emotional glue.
A few weeks ago, I shared this story of my coat with many pockets with a young woman I have befriended at my local grocery store. She was about to embark on an exciting new chapter of her life and was so happy to see me to share that news and to get some words of encouragement from me. It’s been our “thing” through the pandemic to offer each other inspiration and uplifting thoughts. Naturally she was a little nervous about taking this leap and following her heart to pursue her dreams. The image of my coat with all those pockets really resonated with her. As I reflect on it now, I think that my imaginary coat is a metaphor for being present, paying attention to others who have traveled life’s bumpy path and taking their words of encouragement to heart.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all. I hope you will tuck some of the love and joy of this day in your own pockets.
In loving memory of my buoyant, generous and sweet husband, Skip Davis, I share this, his favorite quote: