In October, these missionaries from Boston put on their long underwear.
Never mind that in Hawaii it was as tropical as ever.
It was October.
That’s not an actual quote from Hawaii, Michener’s typically long-view historical novel — I read it decades ago but I think it starts with the undersea eruptions of magma that formed the island chain — but I believe it captures the spirit of his point. Michener was mocking a certain mindset: One that doesn’t distinguish the situation-dependent aspects of life from the eternal ones.
These missionaries — or so Michener was claiming — followed prescribed rules. To be good people, to be holy, to be God-fearing, they read the Bible and prayed at the prescribed time of day, they attended worship services at the prescribed time of the week, they changed into and out of long underwear at the prescribed season, they celebrated Church holidays at the prescribed time of the year, and they traipsed off to a Hawaiian ministry at the prescribed time of their lives.
One of these things is not like the others.
– Sesame Street song
They wouldn’t have understood this song for preschoolers, at least not as it applied to their lives. For them it was all one: the religious observances, the life’s work, the wardrobe choices. And everything that was right in Boston was right everywhere. Every. Little. Thing.
Now I don’t know whether Michener’s take on these folks was even remotely accurate or fair but it stuck with me, maybe because it was thought-provoking and also funny, albeit in a slightly superior way. After all, if you can observe an irrationality in others, you’re not guilty of it yourself, right?
Not so fast.
This week, I rooted through my closet looking for something clean to wear and emerged happy with a drapey, lightweight-cotton top. A sleeveless top. Clearly the right choice for a sunny day in May. And I continued happy with my choice until I went outside, where it felt like October and a cold one at that.
Now, there’s no question that a drapey, lightweight-cotton, sleeveless top can be right in May. But only in the right May.
And although I’m not in exactly the same situation as Michener’s missionaries — I don’t conflate my wardrobe choices with my efforts to live a good life — it was a good reminder not to start doing the equivalent of that in any area of my life. Many of the things I do without thinking aren’t eternal truths or anything like it: They’re just how we happen to do things in Boston.
Oh, give yourself a break! Just put a fleece jacket over your drapey, lightweight-cotton, sleeveless top. Prescribed wearing of long underwear is hardly comparable to the happiness you felt in imagining a lovely spring day. In our country, the weather can be anything in any month. You are already skillfully competent in recognizing the difference between whim and sanctimoniousness.
Happy Mother’s Day (in the snow)!
Judith – 🙂 I have thus far been spared snow in July or August anywhere I’ve been living, but I seem to remember hearing about an outlier storm that hit Calgary before Labour Day one year. Completely unacceptable, even with a fleece jacket to hand.
Wore shorts yesterday. Spent the afternoon in a friend’s boat, out on the lake. Got a sunburn. It was worth the risk of melanoma someday!
Jim – Delightful. The shorts-accommodating temps I mean and access to a boatable body of water.
I can empathize with those missionaries! This story reminded me of when, in January 1976, I had just moved from Winnipeg to Calgary and on January 4 or thereabouts I was walking downtown around noon, headed for a job interview, wearing my winter boots, winter coat, gloves, hat, scarf, dressed, in winter, for a blizzard, should one arise. Whether or not there was going to be a blizzard was irrelevant. Having grown up in Winnipeg, I was prepared for being outdoors in winter — no need to check the weather reports, and of course, the Internet and the Weather Network had yet to be invented. Perhaps at that age (early twenties) I had yet to learn to consult the radio for news about the weather. I had a lot on my mind — the need to find a job, unpacking boxes, learning to live in a new city. The weather was the least of my worries. In any case, there I was walking down the street, in the winter, when I became aware that other pedestrians were in short sleeves and summer clothing. I began to feel the sun beaming down and the heat getting stronger as I looked around and felt myself rather out of place wearing my winter clothes in this strange climate, which, it turned out, was my first experience of a Calgary chinook at 20 degrees above even though it was January. Les montagnes me manquent!
Marilyn – LOL. I bet you attracted a few looks. And learned to stick your nose outdoors before committing to a choice of outerwear.
It’s my favourite sartorial-watching time of year — short parkas with shorts and sandals with thick socks… the wrinkled (in obvious places) shirts coming out after being flattened on top of each other for 8 months… a mixed bag of fabrics…people who saw the sun and miscalculated the wind and cold, hunched over, “If I walk fast enough I’ll get warm….”
One woman last spring on a cold, windy day, was wearing sandals with bare feet, which were blue. I commented and she said, “It’s Spring, dammit!”
Barbara – 🙂 Yes, I get that sense of aggrievedness. I usually dress pretty by the weather as opposed to the calendar, I think, but I’m slow to give up on sandals in the fall. Not a fan of socks and heavier shoes.