My Red Sweater and the Series Unorthodox

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I just finished the mini-series, Unorthodox. It is remarkable in so many ways. But, what is most striking for me, because it hits very close to home, is the courage that Esty — the heroine — had to exhibit to find herself. She left everything she knew, everything she had, everyone she knew, because she needed to find her own voice, which she did literally and figuratively.

It wasn’t an easy journey for Esty. And even at the end, there is an awkwardness to her as she launches forward into a new world where she will, for sure I think, find her way. She fought for her own being, for her happiness. She risked a lot; but she found way more than a lot — she found the person she was at least in the mini-series; I haven’t yet read the book on which the series was based but I will.

I think many of us are scared to find our true voices. The stability of what is, what we are used to, what we have grown up with is too powerful to take big, drastic courageous steps. But, we witness people taking those steps every hour of every day.

The immigrant who leaves their homeland for a new place, the child who defies her parents wishes for how she should dress and wear her hair and instead, she develops her own style, the young person who goes off to college when no one in their family has even graduated from high school. All acts of courage. All acts of strength. All acts worthy of our praise, our recognition.

I think sometimes, like Esty, one takes those steps when one is still young. She was 19 (which means she was married before then). But, one can take those steps at age 29 or 39 or 79. (I am none of these for the record.) The point is that we take these steps when we can, when we are ready (more or less).

I wonder if somehow the Pandemic will free us up inside in some way. It will enable primitive and early internal yearnings and voices to push forward. Yes, we are masked and socially distanced. But perhaps, just perhaps, the time for reflection, the poor role modeling of those in power, the need for voices of courage will enable many people to find something they had but hadn’t found: themselves.

There was a poem in my earlier years titled When I Grow Old, I Will Wear Purple (or something to that effect). Now, to be candid, I have always worn purple. I was once even hired because the hiring partner thought wearing purple in a time when no one did was a sign of strength. Good for him. Good for me too I suppose. So, it wasn’t purple I wore as I aged.

Instead, for me, it was bright colors that I never wore. No bright colors. No reds. No yellows. No oranges. No blues. No green. No neon. Black, gray, brown, beige. Those are the colors I wore. And no sweaters. And no low cut tops. And no tight tops. No, I wasn’t Orthodox.

Now I wear red. I wear every color in the rainbow. My closet has clothes hanging by color — bright colors. Lots of yellow. Lots of blue. Lots of aqua. Lots of green.

And, with the Pandemic and with Unorthodox as a reminder, I am struck by the value of stepping into one’s own shoes. The shoes one was meant to wear and perhaps never put on. Years ago, someone close to me said wearing red shoes is for children and prostitutes. Maybe they wanted to add clowns to that list.

I beg to differ. I think wearing red shoes or red boots is all about courage and belief in self. And, not only do I wear red shoes and red boots, I hope I encourage others to find their equivalent of that — to find their own best selves even in hard times.

That isn’t easy. But the good news about trauma and being traumatized is that when one does walk forward literally and psychically, there is hope. There are red shoes. One just needs first to find them and then wear them. Proudly.

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor

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