April 21st, exactly one year ago today, I took myself to Neiman Marcus for the final fitting of the most expensive dress I’d ever been insane enough to buy. What was I thinking? Back in September, I was already half-crazed by the prospect of a child of mine getting married when I lost my mind taking the short-cut through Neiman’s on my way back to the parking lot. Several hundred dollars worth of teal lace called to me from the rack where it hung in good company with “better dresses,” sleek and narrow from its sleeveless bodice to its floor-length lace hemline. My daughter’s voice reverberated in my mind, “It’s not too early to start looking, Mom.” I didn’t dare even hope it would fit me, never mind the price, but I did dare, and, miracle of miracles, it almost fit, and even more miraculous, I felt as close to almost beautiful in that dress as I’d ever dared to feel. Didn’t I owe my daughter that on her wedding day? With a little magic from Rosy, Neiman’s resident genius of aerodynamic tailoring, it would be perfect for the wedding in July.
April 21st. Ordinarily, the date would have slipped into the mental gelatin of days past, but this date stuck in my mind because that dress-fitting would change my life.
I arrived in the better dresses department toting a small bag of just-purchased undergarments especially engineered to package my attributes smoothly and efficiently inside the lace confines of my dress.
In the Neiman’s dressing room, about the size of my bedroom, I reached into my bag and pulled out one strapless bra of infinite cup size, leaned over, and poured my fleshy breasts into their capacious bowls. I squeezed my hips and thighs through extra-high-rise long-line Spanx sausage casing, the girdle to gird all outdoors, and when I slipped the Rosy-altered dress over the firmed-up mold of my compressed torso, it fell over me with nary a wrinkle. I could barely breathe.
This would not do. I might have been struck by lightning for the sudden clarity of my revelation, or maybe it was the sensation that all my flesh was pushed up into my throat. There was a distinct possibility that I might suffocate in this dress before my daughter ever said “I do.” I imagined how I would feel on her wedding day, standing under the chuppah like Chicken Kiev, buttery perspiration oozing out from the lace pores of my exquisite teal dress.
No. On that day of all days, I would have to breathe. I would have to feel wonderful in my whole-body self, free from sneaky-peeks of self-scrutiny from behind the shield of strapless armature. I had to be pure for this wedding, rid myself of girdle guilt, and achieve the wedding zen of full and utter presence for my daughter. That’s what crystalized for me on that day exactly one year ago today. And I did it. Wedding Zen.
It was effortless, really. This was no South Beach diet, no counting calories or measuring fat grams. It was a diet of the soul, in the true spirit of Zen enlightenment, propelled by the realization that time is precious and life too short to suffer what you can fix. I purged closets and cupboards that had been bursting with the detritus of decades, built a garden in our back yard, began swimming twice a week, and started attending the Saturday minyan at our synagogue.
Miraculously, my appetite began to change. At the grocery, I gravitated toward green peppers and fresh berries instead of bagels and ice cream. I started planning dinner with an eye to variety and aesthetics instead of the most expedient way to refuel the tank at the end of a long workday. Little by little, I began to fill the emptiness that had once consumed me with hunger with visits to the Botanic Garden, or stolen moments of drawing and painting the flowers now blooming in my garden. I wasn’t thinking about losing weight. A bigger picture took over, one so big, it spawned a largeness of heart that overcame my self-consuming recriminations, and freed me to bathe in the glow of gratitude for our family, for my wonderful, bright, accomplished, and beautiful daughter and the dear young man who was about to become our son-in-law.
By the time July 6th rolled around, my teal extravagance had dropped a full inch in length. New shoes with a higher heel, problem solved! I bid my Spanx a fond farewell and exchanged the 34 quintuple D bra for a 32 D. Relief! The teal extravagance simplified itself into the elegant but understated dress I wore to my daughter’s wedding. I gave my daughter my best self that day, and the day gave me joy beyond words that has kept me floating several inches off the ground ever since.
The momentum from that epiphany exactly one year ago today has sustained me all year long, but it became so much more, because from that nucleus of purpose and clarity, I began claiming a self I had somehow not yet fully owned, an accepting self, an unencumbered self, a giving self, that was open and present and free to breathe in life’s gifts more deeply.
This year’s April 21st dawned a balmy spring day. My dog Bella and I had been playing fetch in the pink blush of sunrise out in the park for about ten minutes before I woke up enough to hear the birds singing, and in that instant, the doors of Paradise flung open. This is Life, I said, that tiny speck of time I have been invited to enter--the kingdom of singing birds. And now, because of a dress-fitting a year ago today, I can step through the doorway to Paradise every day. All I have to do is breathe.