It was black velvet. With a deep, thick, shiny nap. The softest dress I had ever felt. Of course, I was only about three or four years old at the time, so my experience with dresses of any material was rather limited. And yet, out of my sense-memory, I can still feel it beneath my hands – glossy, smooth, incredibly luxurious. I loved my black velvet dress. I loved its sparkly buttons and its ties at the gathered neckline and its two patch pockets on either side of its skirt.
I wanted to wear my black velvet dress inside out. I wanted the beautiful softness of it to be against my own skin, where I could feel it best. I didn’t want to waste all its loveliness on the side facing away from me. It made perfect sense to my three-or-four-year-old self.
Of course, the buttons would be difficult, wearing it inside out – buttons were already a challenge to my stubby, uninformed fingers. And the pockets. However would I reach my hankie or my Sunday School pennies with the pockets on the inside? But the greatest sacrifice of all (my mother pointed out) was that only I would be able to enjoy the beauty of the dress. Its soft, shinning, loveliness would be shared with no one. And nothing should be worn inside out if it was done out of selfishness – if it meant keeping the best part to ourselves, hidden away from others. And then she showed me in the mirror that when I wore the dress right side out, it made me look prettier, too.
The lesson of the black velvet dress came back to me recently as I began noticing the new fencing in and around town. Not the charming original brick or stone garden walls; not the horse fences encircling old barns and much-loved paddocks. But it seems to me that many of the newest private residential fences are being installed backward – at least according to established fence etiquette and tradition. They’re being put in post-side out, finished-side in. The pretty side faces inward, while the rough side, the post and crossbar side, is turned outward for others to see – its back is turned to the world in general. I wonder at the implications of that.
I suspect this may be a reflection of our society nowadays – perhaps globally. Perhaps it is just one more visible example of our shifting away from the practice of courtesy and politeness, sliding more and more into the sad side of selfishness. I wonder when we stopped believing that we should always share the best part of who we are and what we have with others. Put our best foot forward. I wonder why we decided to keep all of our goodness facing away from each other and the world around us.
I was at the Arts Walk downtown last week. And I saw artist after artist who had painted and drawn and written stories to be shared and seen and read by others. The music that was played was composed to be performed, and heard up and down the streets.
And the flower bulbs I planted just last week were created to have the root sides down, beneath the ground for strength and nurturing, while the sprouts and blossoms go reaching up, with beauty to be visible for all who pass by.
Perhaps we’ve simple forgotten all that wisdom of tradition and nature and the creative spirit – wisdom that perhaps should be applied to our personal selves and our everyday behavior. Perhaps we need to reconsider and begin again with common courtesy and polite society, stepping aside and smiling at strangers, holding our tongues and holding open doors.
I suspect we need to look in the mirror and see how much better we look when we wear ourselves with the “right side” showing (and remembering why it’s called the “right side” in the first place). Perhaps we simply need to be reminded to always wear our velvet side out.