I got back from a leadership institute today and as usual, I’d over-packed–three too many t-shirts, a bathing suit I never used, and a few extra pairs of shorts. I learned on my trip to Belize the importance of rolling, not folding, clothes to preserve suitcase space, so the unpacking process now includes refolding my laundry. I picked up a pair of shorts I hadn’t worn, and all the week’s lessons converged on a few threads of white cotton crisscrossed in a barbed wire pattern.
Integrity, intent, and fashion sense. That’s leadership.
This is not a post about leadership–but leadership is merely an incarnation of the lessons we learned. A recurring thing was the saying “Own your stuff,” and I feel some ownership is at last in order.
I recall the moment I saw the shorts on sale and knew I wanted them. Barbed wire? That’s a statement. But it’s more than a statement: it’s a history lesson. Not all that long ago, I was encamped in a barbed wire fence, living in the captivity of the Third Reich–but living wasn’t living, I was dying, slowly being killed.
When I got home, I recall a distinct look of uncertainty in my mother’s eyes, but she didn’t question my choice.
More recently, I was with some friends and a forgotten prelude prompted my comment, “I’m a Jew wearing barbed wire.” My friends were floored, mouths aghast at the prospect, but I only laughed at their response: What once represented the iron-scent of blood and brutality had blossomed into the blunt sound of irony.
When I saw these shorts hanging on the rack, I saw past their threadbare fashion sense and into the fabric of history itself–to times of slavery and oppressions, eras of peoples pushed beyond the fence, dying in the grip of wiry vines twisting with thorns. I saw past the protests of poor taste to the proclamation of reclamation of progress.
I step out in irony and I feel empowered, defiant: Instead of dying behind a fence, I’m living from within it. History cannot hold me down. Oppression cannot order me around. I am alive. In the face of endless adversary, I am alive–and in the face of fear, I fight back, bearing the brunt of my enemies, a war trophy of the battles I’ve already won–a promise of the endgame I’ll soon achieve.
If you see me on the streets, more than likely my clothes will match and be little more than that–but clothing forms a second skin, a skin of our own choosing, our own design, and if we cannot express ourselves and our stories through the garbs we carry, we are little else than naked wanderers in the battlefields of freedom.
I refuse to lie down and allow others to fence me in and turn me around. I am an endless soldier, fighting for this story, and in my arsenal and armory are swords of fashion sense and sensibility.