Sermon on the Street: Fashion Statements

Author: Fr. Eric Schimmel, C.S.C.

Fr Eric Schimmel, CSC handing out clothes

Fr. Eric Schimmel, C.S.C., the director of André House in Phoenix and one or our regular correspondents, appears to be auditioning to be our fashion blogger with this month’s post. Last I checked, we did not have any openings for a fashion column, but maybe we will need to rethink that now.

I assure you that I am not writing this blog about fashion just because I have been hearing so much hype about the Oscars. This past month a couple of things caught my attention centering around clothing and our clothing closet – a place that some affectionately refer to as “André House of Style.”

A couple of Saturdays ago I was surprised by some donations that came into the clothing closet. We had a lot of volunteers helping us that Saturday, so I spent some time going around checking in with the different services – laundry, phone office, showers, and, of course, the clothing closet. This included saying hello to those in the basement sorting the donations.

While in the basement, a particular set of donations grabbed my attention. We had several pairs of jeans and t-shirts that still had their price tags on them. Some of these items are a bit flashier than what I usually would wear myself. But, being in a jovial mood, I indulged the volunteers who were encouraging me to try on some of the items that came in. Here is a picture of my outfit. 

Fr Eric sporting some donated clothes

What shocked me the most is that the price tag for this outfit of jeans and a t-shirt was $200.00. Just for the jeans and a t-shirt! Unless I am wearing a full suit or vestments for Mass, I don’t think the sum total of all that I have on would add up to more than $150 (and that is counting shoes, etc.). After my fashion show, I returned these items and have seen a few of our guests very happily wearing their new digs they got in André House of Style. One even commented as he was in the clothing closet this past week that he might stop ever trying to go to a regular store because there is good stuff here. Not sure how I feel about that, but I do feel good knowing that our guests feel like they receive clothes that they can wear without shame. Everyone deserves that.

André House of Style

The other clothing related story comes from one of our guests who I will call Teddy. Teddy came into our office where people make phone calls, get hygiene products, ask for blankets, etc. He wanted to make a phone call to check on some legal issues. Anyone who has met Teddy knows that he has some mental health issues. The aluminum foil helmet that he often wears tends to be the first clue about that. Once this middle aged African American-man also hooked me into one of the most uncomfortable conversations I have ever been in when he decided to loudly extol the virtues of the KKK in the middle of our crowded hallway. I felt like I had to keep saying, loudly, that I don’t really agree with his opinion. However, I did not dare to suggest that the KKK might not accept an application for membership from him.

After succeeding in his phone call, the phone office was empty. So Teddy decided that he would show me something that he would do with his son for fun. He took out a white sheet from his bag and said that he was going to make a cape. He would be superman. Very carefully Teddy spread the paint-stained white sheet on the ground, and proceeded to cut it diligently and carefully. He took it up to try it on, then cut some more. Eventually it was ready to wear.

Meanwhile, Teddy was talking with another staff member and me. Just after finishing his cape, Teddy said two things that struck my heart. He said, “I am spending all my energy just trying to survive.” Shortly after that he said, “You know, dealing with my mental illness I feel so awkward, so exposed.”

I know that Teddy is not the only one who often feels awkward, “so exposed.” I know that these feelings are not confined to those at André House. I can feel that way, more often than I would like to admit. Perhaps these feelings are one reason why Teddy wears his helmet. The juxtaposition of feelings of extreme awkwardness next to his identity of superman in his cape stayed with me for days. He still wears his cape even though he can no longer say that he is just doing it for fun with his son.

Teddy made me wonder what other capes and helmets people put on to cover these feelings as we are “just trying to survive” in this world. I dare say that most are not so visible. I also wonder how we can help people become more comfortable with themselves, and spend less time trying to avoid that dreaded Kryptonite.

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