Friday, December 19, 2008
How I Got That Dress
This is post is going up by special request from Really Rosie and Fallen Sparrow.
December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, was the fourth anniversary of my engagement (which took place, incidentally, in the church in whose excellent choir Fallen sings -- in front of the Blessed Sacrament, which is a good way to win a girl's heart). At the time my then-boyfriend asked me to marry him, however, I had already purchased my wedding dress. How did such an unorthodox thing come to be? Here, gentle reader, is how.
A couple of weeks before that fateful event, I was having a bad day. It was a cold, gray afternoon in mid-November, and I was late with my tuition payment at the university and wouldn't be able to re-enroll for the next semester until that matter was settled. I'd been working part-time while doing my coursework, and had recently returned from a recital gig in England, which, while it garnered me some attention, ended up being, like most recital gigs, rather unprofitable, and my bank account balance that day was hovering around $37.00. I had gone to my bank to ascertain this state of affairs (Amalgamated, "the working man's bank," natch, of which there were only three branches in New York, none of them anywhere near my home). After receiving the disappointing news, I caught a bus down Broadway, wondering what to do, and for some reason I decided to get off at West 37th Street and go into a church that I'd never been in before, the Church of the Holy Innocents, which is right in the heart of the garment district.
For those who haven't been there, it is a remarkable church. It is old, dark, and lit mostly by candlelight, and the walls and nearly every space not in prescribed liturgical use are covered and crammed with old-fashioned images of many saints, some of whom I can't even identify. At any hour of the day, you can find several mantilla-clad abuelas praying in the pews. Being an ethnic American Catholic myself, this is the kind of place I always feel at home.
Once inside, I knelt down and prayed fervently. Mostly I asked God to show me what to do with my life, and in particular to let me know if there was anything I was overlooking. Then I had to go teach a voice lesson (one of my jobs at the time was giving voice lessons to little girls on Park Avenue, which was very complicated for various reasons, about which I will blog another time), and, as I was leaving the church, I saw that it had a thrift shop in its basement. The thrift shop had a sign in the window advertising a very small-sized wedding dress for two hundred dollars. For some reason, I felt as if I should take a look at the dress, just for fun and just in case.
I went in and asked about the dress, but no one working there could find it. I looked at a few white things I saw hanging up, but they were not wedding dresses. All in all, the place looked sad and poor, with a few faded clothes draped limply on the desultory racks. So I made to leave, but just then a man came into the shop to start his shift there, and the other workers told me that his name was John and that he knew about the wedding dress.
John, a diffident, humble older man with kind blue eyes, brought out an enormous garment bag from behind a curtain. He laid it on a table, unzipped it, and inside was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen, white satin with a ten-foot-long embroidered train that could be hooked up to the skirt, and a bodice encrusted with artificial pearls - a princess's gown. Understandably, considering the location of the church, the dress was a designer's sample. It looked as if it would fit me, but I couldn't be certain by eyeballing it, so I asked John if I could try it on. He refused, because he didn't want it to get dirty, and anyway, there were no changing rooms. So I figured it wasn't meant to be -- and why would it have been, since I wasn't even engaged? -- and I made to leave. But then, for some reason, John relented, and said I could try it on, as long as I took off my shoes. So I stood on what honestly looked like a Muslim prayer rug -- I'm not sure why it was there -- and two women sheltered me, and I pulled the dress on over my head found that it fit like it was made for me. Then, to my great amazement, John fell to his knees, made the sign of the cross, and started praying and thanking God. He said he'd had the dress in the shop for a long time, and that many women had wanted to see it, but none could wear it; one, he said, had even left in tears because it was clearly the wrong size, so obviousy the fact that it fit me like a glove was a demonstration of God's holy will. He asked God to bless me and my fiancé (I didn't tell him that I didn't officially have one yet). All of this happened on a Friday, at three o'clock, the hour of Divine Mercy. So clearly I had to buy the dress. I put ten dollars down on it, all I'd been able to take out of my Amalgamated bank account that day, with a promise to pick it up on payday. I brought it home a few days later on the subway in an enormous garbage bag.
So then there I was a couple of weeks later on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament as my husband-to-be produced a small box from his pocket.
We were married four months after that, on the day that Pope John Paul II died ("Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints" [Ps 116:15]), in a torrential rainstorm. Our son was born nine months and a couple of days later.
I had been worried that I wouldn't be able to have children; I was in my late thirties, and I couldn't shake the heretical notion that God would want to punish me forever for my abortion. But this whole story, after all, is about how His Mercy (as he made clear to Saint Faustina, who, it is rumored, will soon be declared a Doctor of the Church), is greater than his just judgment.
You can see a picture of me in the dress here. One of my friends in the Sisters of Life, several of whom attended my wedding, thinks that the dress was designed by the same designer who created their distinctive and beautiful habit, which can be seen in a couple of images on this blog.
It is important to emphasize, for my own benefit as much ss for the benefit of those reading this blog, that, as Christ said in Matthew 5:45, good things happen to bad people (and, sadly, vice versa). God allows the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the just and the unjust alike. Whatever God has given me is through no merits of my own, but rather through the storehouse of his unfathomable Mercy.
Dear readers, please pray for John, the man who worked at the thrift shop. I ran into him again with my husband a few months later, praying in another church (he was astonished to see me pregnant so soon after our momentous meeting). He no longer had his job at the thrift shop. He is a poor and holy man who lives a solitary life, and I know very little else about him, but I believe he could use our prayers.