The More We Own The Less We Have to Name

If we had only one coat, we would call it Warm,

but if we got another, it would not be Warmer,

      just our other coat,

and if we bought, borrowed, stole

      or rescued from the trash

a third, fourth, or fifth coat,

if our closets held so many coats

jackets, parkas, capes, stoles, mantles and mackinaws

that if we changed them daily from October through April,

rotating cashmere, leather, fleece and down,

scarlets and peacocks, blacks and browns,

if we had coats to cover the entire tundra

      and with it all our ancestors

who ever felt the chill of His absence,

none of these would be Warmer,

none of these would be Enough.

– L.N. Allen

We have a whole room in our house lined with pegs and devoted to the storage of coats – a startling array of outerwear designed to help ease six people through four seasons worth of weather and everything in-between.  In that small back room, a former porch now closed in, there are more coats for us all than Baskin Robbins has flavors – a coat, you might say, for every palate. 

I also have a whole room in my memory devoted to the coats of my past, a musty closet so full that the door will hardly stay shut anymore.  If you were to dig your way cautiously in to that dark closet in the hallway of my brain you might find, way in the back, the mustardy-golden wool coat with large toggle buttons that I thought was oh-so-trendy in high school.  Hanging near it, or cast forgotten onto the floor, lies the bright orange and navy blue windbreaker that matched so well with my eyes, but made me feel like a construction worker every time I wore it. 

The dark wool pea-coat I bought at the salvation army in college would still be there hanging stiffly on its hanger.  It was ungodly heavy, decked out with two rows of silver buttons and appeared to me to be a real cast-off from the Navy.  Nearby would be the thin yellow rain coat I bought for a camping trip with my then boyfriend who later became my husband, as though the purchase of a coat between us somehow sealed the deal. 

Hanging toward the front, still usable, would be the burgundy knee-length coat that makes me feel a little like a rock star every time I wear it.  This is the coat that caused my husband to suggest in a gentle tone when I returned home from buying it, that maybe we should consult each other before making big purchases. 

I have too many coats (maybe I always have) and my husband and children do too.  Lately I’m hunting for a back-up winter coat for my daughter.  I’ve made multiple trips to a variety of stores, ordered two online and returned, all because I don’t like the way her bright pink parka from last year is starting to show some wear. Walking into Old Navy on yet another scouting trip I noticed a box for donating old coats as you buy a new one and I thought, “Why not keep your old coat and buy a new one to donate?” I didn’t do either, though, not that day nor since. 

The coats we wear, like much of our clothing, are often a symbol for identity, announcing to the world our interest in outdoor sports or our need to hide behind something long and warm that covers us.  Our coats hold us, warm us and I have to restrain myself every year to keep from buying an over-abundance of fleeces and hoodies at yard and consignment sales, so great is my desire and my pleasure at covering, clothing, my children.

I have too many coats as our back room will tell you and many days I’m convinced that this is more of a burden than a blessing.  I wonder what these coats might tell me if I were to listen to them one by one.  Certainly they would speak of my vanity, my desire to fit in or stick out in equally competing measures.  They might mention also, perhaps shyly, my fear of the cold and how holding myself too tightly rigid only makes the shivering that much worse.  They would probably want to know why I don’t go out more often, to enjoy the cold or the rain or the wind, especially now that I have them to keep me.   

Gracious God, we in our frail humanity fear the cold, the wind, the rain.  To put it more plainly, ever since that incident in the garden, we fear exposure.  Forgive us, please, if we go a little overboard in covering ourselves and the ones we love.  Help us to bear, oh Lord, your stripping.  Teach us to welcome the first breath of frost and its burning sting.  Help us to learn to let Warm be enough. 

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