Monday, August 17

Hope in a Coat

I found it in my closet again the other day. Pausing, I pulled the coat from its place in the darkness, running a hand over it to look at it in the weak light of the spare closet. The dusty collar, the fabric-covered buttons, the slightly worn cuffs, an interior liner that reminded me of a picnic table.

It’s more than ten years old, now. But the color – that bright red, a beacon of a color and the reason I bought it when I saw it at TopShop during the semester I studied abroad – is still true.

The red coat in 2004
It was in the spring of 2004 that I stumbled out of a bus into Gloucester Green in Oxford, England, fresh off an overnight flight and fighting jet lag. The bus station was close enough to St. Michael’s Hall that we were able to trip along to the place we’d live for the next few months, suitcases bumping over cobblestones. It didn’t take long to settle into a rhythm: Sweaty hands and a pounding heart when meeting with professors one-on-one for a semi-terrifying hour once a week, hours and hours (and hours!) of homework, falling in love with Jane Austen’s novels, eating chips and cheese, feeling daunted by the Bodleian Library, hearing church bells toll, living on a college diet of digestives (cookies) and cold cereal, attending vespers, watching a fencing match, seeing Michelangelo’s drawings at The Ashmolean Museum, sharing pints with friends at pubs.

I was out shopping with friends when I saw it. It was £60, a dear amount at the time, nearly double that price in American currency. I hemmed and hawed over it, leaving and returning later. But it was winter, and then spring, while we were there. And with temperatures rarely dipping below 30 degrees, the balmy weather lent itself well to our incessant walking, necessitating a mid-warmth coat.

I loved it, so I finally talked myself into it and bought it. It became my favorite coat, a symbol of being young and happy and part of a world that felt full of limitless possibilities.


I brought it home with me, and wore it to a wedding the very next week. I wore it shopping and to church and for special occasions; I wore it for everyday things like work and coffee runs to Caribou and nights out with friends.

My sister died the very next year. In the days that followed, I bought a gorgeous sweater to wear to her funeral that I’ve held on to for sentimentality’s sake: a soft black, with a ribbon weaving along the collar and down the front, sparkles winking on the edges.

Still wearing the coat in 2009
And I wore my red coat. It was a gloomy day, the October cold unsettling, the chill air a match for the numbness I felt inside. A friend later told me that looking around at the graveside, I stood out like a beacon in a sea of black.

I didn't think much about it, then. When I wore it that day, the world no longer felt full of limitless possibilities, as it had during my months abroad.  Instead, it felt tired and sagging under the heavy weight of grief.

But looking back now, I understand more than ever the truth that the red coat symbolized in two very different settings -- that despite circumstances, there was always the hope of more. More to this life, more beyond this life. Seeing my sister and knowing the truth -- that her body had become an empty shell that no longer housed a soul -- convinced me as nothing else ever could that life does not end, that the world really is full of limitless possibilities that extend not just to the world around us but the world beyond us, the world that is to come.

It's the reason I'll probably never get rid of that coat. I tried it on again the other day, just to see -- it's a little tighter in my midsection, not quite the fit it was ten years ago -- but still comfortable. And as I returned it to its position in the closet, I couldn't help but smile. Because yes, there is life. There is hope. And there is -- still -- a world of limitless possibilities.


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