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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

Tied into happiness

Those who know me know that I like to wear ties...a lot. Over the years I have amassed a collection of many different types of ties: striped, plain-colored, checkered and paisley. If you can think of a tie design, there's a good chance I have worn it.

But over the years, my taste in ties has changed. I've moved from the department store to the thrift store, from the patterned to the downright ridiculous. Although people have asked me to describe my "taste" in ties, I still struggle to come up with just one word to describe the types of ties I choose to wear everyday. 

But, if I were to use a word to describe my taste in neckwear, I would probably use the word "wacky." Let me give a few examples.

If a tie has a smiley face on it, it will always make the cut. Some image of hearts and/or love? Automatic yes! Double bonus if Jesus makes an appearance on the tie in some fashion, too. Above all, I have a special weakness for cartoon characters, especially ones that are smiling. As a general rule, the more ridiculous, the more inclined I am to wear it.

But, growing up, I didn't really like wearing ties. To be fair, it wasn't really the tie itself I disliked, just the process that went into tying the knot. I can remember getting frustrated over and over again as I tried many different types of knots: Windsors, half-Windsors, simple knots. Something always seemed to go wrong: I'd misjudge the slack or get lazy pulling the material through.  Sometimes, the tie would be too long, others times, too short.

But, with practice, I got better. And over the years, as I discovered how much I liked working with kids, I began to wear these "wacky" ties more and more. I found them to be really good conversation pieces. I can't tell you how many times my attempts to break the ice with a friendly "Hello!" would be met with blank stares. But almost always, a few moments later, their eyes would catch whatever tie I might happen to be wearing. And, quite frequently, their stares turned to smiles. "Nice tie," they would say. And that's all I would need to start a conversation.

Sometimes, however, coaxing a smile isn't always as easy as simply wearing a tie. Having just come off of a senior retreat with some of the students from my high school, I was reminded of the fact that many of us carry some sort of brokenness and pain that makes it hard to be cheerful. It hurts me especially to see some of the burdens my students are carrying.

But as I look back, I can see what a grace-filled retreat it was. The students brought their whole selves, their questions, their joys and their sorrows. They did one of the hardest things a person can do. They opened themselves and their struggles to one another. In doing this, they began to see what was possible when they opened themselves so others could better see inside of their hearts, to see the stories that waited there.

But I am convinced the hardest part about retreats does not come on the retreat. It lies in encountering the world after the retreat is over. 

The students struggle to return and live in a world where messiness is more apparent than love. The self-knowledge they gain on retreat is muddied as they wade back into a world that pays more attention what's on the outside than the inside.

FyodorDostoevsky writes in this manner: "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams." True clarity, I think, is revealed in charity and vulnerability. That is to say, we can really only see ourselves when we open ourselves up. Yes, when we commit ourselves to vulnerability, we risk harsh treatment and being hurt, but we also open ourselves to the glorious majesty of God's transformational light.

Mother Teresa said, "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love." And more often than not, most of us will show charity in small ways. For me, it means taking the time to tie a wacky tie every morning, not because I always feel like it or am good at it, but because I know it might make someone else happy. And when I open that "wacky" part of myself, I give others a chance to see me for who I am. And maybe, just maybe, they might see something within themselves too.

Let's remain faithful to our small commitments. After all, with a little love and dedication, they might become bigger commitments capable of growing a love that will transform the world.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.