318: “The Thrift-Shop Angel,” A Holiday Gift from Cindy LaFerle

e’re pleased today to welcome back a good friend of ReadTheSpirit, author and columnist Cindy LaFerle. You’ll learn more about Cindy and her work at the end of today’s story, which originally appeared in the Christian Science Monitor and also is included in her book, “Writing Home.”
    The story you’re about to read is a spiritual gem on its own. But you’ll enjoy the story more if you understand what Cindy is doing right now in the background with her proceeds from the sale of new copies of “Writing Home.”
    In an Email, Cindy explained it this way: “While assembling the essays for ‘Writing Home,’ I was struck by a bolt of irony: I am very blessed to live in a beautiful old house in a wonderful tree-lined community — and yet within blocks of where I live, homeless people walk the streets in search of food and shelter.
    “Because ‘home’ is the overriding theme of the essays in my book — and home is essential to all of us — I have been donating proceeds from holiday sales of new copies of ‘Writing Home’ to organizations serving the homeless in the county where I live. So far, I’ve donated $500 of my book profits to these organizations.”

Thrift Shop Angel
By Cindy La Ferle

“In almost every situation, there are ways that we can fly higher, at fuller wingspan.
Marianne Williamson

These days you can’t predict the shoppers you’ll bump into at your local thrift store. And you probably don’t expect to hear the flutter of angel wings amid the racks of used clothing.
    Known as one of “the regulars,” I frequent thrift shops in search of secondhand treasures – the Chanel business suit in mint condition; the Ralph Lauren evening jacket worn only once. Like many suburban women I know, I haunt these places not because I need to (though I love a good bargain) but because I’m intrigued by beautiful old clothes. In my holier-than-thou moments, I also like to remind people that I’m not a thoughtless slave to fashion, but a link in the recycling chain. And I love the thrill of the hunt.
    More often than not, I also rub elbows with shoppers who aren’t stalking vintage finds or designer labels from Paris. They are the careful spenders who can’t afford to pay top dollar for the latest trends at the malls. Some are looking for warm, practical clothing that won’t break the grocery budget, especially during Michigan’s frigid winters.

     The week after Thanksgiving last year, I visited one of my favorite thrift haunts in search of the perfect pair of broken-in jeans. Perusing a rack of faded khaki and denim, I overheard another customer at the sales register.
    “Is this sweater on sale this week?” the shopper asked hopefully, holding up a gently used cashmere sweater in pastel pink. “I’d like to buy this for my daughter for Christmas, but $20 is more than I can spend.”
    The saleswoman behind the counter looked at the price tag and shook her head kindly. No, the sweater wasn’t on sale that week – only the blue tags were half off — and the item wouldn’t be marked down until next month.
    Without missing a beat, another shopper spoke up.
    “Please, let me buy that sweater for you,” she said. “I woke up today feeling blessed and I want to pass it on.”
    For a moment the shop stood still, as if everyone in it was momentarily stunned. It was, after all, a very brave and uncommon thing to do – asking a stranger in need if she’d let you buy her a cashmere sweater to give her daughter.
    During the season of giving, most of us gladly donate what we can to local charities or mission projects overseas. It’s so much easier to scribble a check to a faceless organization whose needy recipients we’ll never see. Or to stuff a bill in the Salvation Army’s cherry-red bucket as we dash from one holiday errand to the next. Likewise, staying safely at a distance, we clean out our closets and bundle up our old coats, then drop them in boxes outside the social hall at church.
    Somewhat reluctantly, the woman who wanted the pink sweater agreed to let the stranger purchase it for her.
    But her gratitude was palpable, and the whole store seemed to breathe again.
    A heartwarming conversation about real-life goodness followed, and before long, the saleswoman and every customer within earshot were fighting tears. I dried my eyes on a pair of vintage Calvins I’d uncovered.
    Composing myself, I walked up to the counter, hoping for a closer look at the generous soul who’d just bought a cashmere sweater for someone she’d never met. I wanted to thank her for rekindling the holiday spirit I thought I’d lost in the seasonal frenzy of shopping, wrapping, and baking.
    But like most angels, she’d flitted out the door as quietly as she’d arrived – most likely, on her way to another miracle.

    Cindy La Ferle’s “Writing Home” has won four awards for creative nonfiction and is distributed to bookstores nationally by Wayne State University Press. It is also available on Amazon.com via the link above. For more of Cindy’s writings, please visit www.laferle.com

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