I believe that – if we’re lucky – we’re always in the process of becoming our true selves. Sometimes it happens slowly, with baby steps, then, suddenly, by giant leaps, like some weird game of psychic “Simon Says”. This is the story of how a red leather purse could effect one tiny transformation.
My friend Laura brought this incredibly beautiful, tomato-red, hand-tooled leather purse over to my house around the beginning of the year. She asked me what I thought of it (wow!) and then asked me if I wanted it.
I said, “No.” One of my core beliefs has been that I am a sensible-purse person, not a wow-purse person.
That darn red purse sat on the kitchen counter while Laura and I drank coffee and talked and fed our mid-winter carbohydrate cravings.
“It certainly has a presence,” I thought. “Am I a person who can get away with carrying a purse like this?”
No kidding, this is one beautiful sculptural object. It looks really good in my colorful house. But could it look as good next to my body in a public place? What in my current wardrobe could I possibly wear that would do this purse justice? Would I have to shop for a new wardrobe so I could carry it? And, really, how shallow is all this?
Fancy purses aren’t really a Flagstaff thing. Being in possession of a show-stopping, envy-inspiring, taxi-cab hailing purse in Flagstaff mostly just gets you a “she’s not from here, is she?” look at Macy’s.
This purse has so much presence it needs a proper name, like Rita or Natalie. The leather is thick, like a saddle, and decorated with hand-tooled flowers and leaves. The color is brash, like Bette Davis in All About Eve. The movie was in black and white, but Bette was sassy and you knew she was wearing bright red lipstick.
I changed my mind. Yes, I said, hoping the offer was still open. I want to be the kind of person who can carry off that purse.
I accepted the gift, if less than graciously, with a sense of momentum and conveyance, a sense of wonder and anticipation.
It turns out that this purse commands quite a lot of attention. Perfect strangers compliment me on it in the grocery store. People stop me in bars and ask me about it. Men, straight men, say, “Nice purse.” People view me differently, carrying this purse. I’ve had to learn to see myself differently.
This purse has some kind of talismanic power to transform, and everyone knows it.
Rita’s not really mine, I’ve decided. I’m only going to be her temporary home, just until I become a person who would carry her. I’m getting pretty close. When the right moment comes, I’ll pass her along to the next person who thinks she (or he?) can’t get away with carrying this purse.
In the throes of the big snowstorm last week, Kate called to tell me that Terry Tempest Williams was still going to speak that night, and I’d be sorry if I didn’t go. I had decided to skip it, but I knew Kate was right. I was pissed off and scared about having to drive through the storm. I got over that almost as soon as I left the house; I had forgotten how driving through snow-filled streets can be positively exhilarating. I was glad I’d changed my mind.
Because it turns out that even Terry Tempest Williams second-guesses herself. Invited by Lily Yeh to Rwanda to be scribe and witness to the construction of a memorial to the massacred, Williams first said, “No.” Then, “Yes.” Yes to witnessing the horror and suffering of the place, yes to sorrow, yes to singing the Jello jingle, and yes to transformation.
What I fear and desire the most in this world is passion. I fear it because it promises to be spontaneous, out of my control, unnamed, beyond my reasonable self. I desire it because passion has color, like the landscape before me. It is not pale. It is not neutral. It reveals the backside of the heart.
A while back, in Desert Quartet, Williams wrote that passage about passion. I have it tucked away as a reminder to say yes to things that frighten or intimidate me, or threaten to force change.
Saying “no” is how we hedge our bets, give ourselves time to think, time to understand the consequences of our decisions, and time to finally realize that the only right answer is “yes.”