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    I write and speak on all sorts of topics: ancient Christian spirituality and the Eastern Orthodox faith, the Jesus Prayer, marriage and family, the pro-life cause, cultural issues, and more. You can contact Cynthia Damaskos of the Orthodox Speakers Bureau if you’d like to bring me to an event. This Calendar will let you know when I’m in your neighborhood.


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Thrift Shop Treasures

[NPR, "All Things Considered," May 20, 1997]

I’ve walked a hundred miles in another woman’s shoes, and I don’ t even know her name. I’ve ironed her blouse, hemmed her skirt, and carried her handbag. She’s not one person, but a composite of dozens, women of all ages and races and creed.

But there is one thing they all had in common: they were all mostly my size.

I became a thrift-shop customer reluctantly, over a process of years. I first stepped inside my local Salvation Army store lured by the rumor that there were books in there, cheap and plenty. That first visit offered little to encourage a return. A musty, grandma’s-attic smell hung in the air. Forlorn furniture sat here and there, flanked by giant table lamps, a wooden crate full of curtains, shoes lined up by color.

On a repeat visit I was lured from the bookshelves toward a set of four old wooden chairs with backs steepled like the Empire State Building. A week later they were freshly painted blue and sitting in my kitchen. Then the corner of a piece of embroidery caught my eye, as it stuck out of the curtain bin. It turned out to be a large piece of visionary folk art, and the cashier gave it to me free. When I took it to an art dealer for an appraisal, he offered to buy it.

But the idea of buying used clothes made me shy. A little nonchalant examining of the racks swiftly overcame this hesitation. Here were clothes I’d never be able to afford, silks, suedes, fine wools, exquisite styling and high priced labels, for a few dollars each. Till then I’d been buying new clothes at much higher prices for much lower quality. Pride went out the window, and a lovely red raw-silk suit went in the bag.

The explanation was obvious once I thought about it. The key to thrift shop quality is the donors, and a few miles away was a swanky development full of professional women. I’d be glad to recycle their expensive purchases. I just hoped I wouldn’t run into them in the grocery store.

It’s been years now, and I’ve become a connoiseur: Salvation Army, Goodwill, Value Village, Amvets, every store has its charms, and a couple even have dressing rooms. Best of all, every time I buy clothes I have a chance to donate back previous purchases that have lost their novelty. So I don’t actually buy clothes at a thrift shop—I just rent them. And decked out in my rented, second-hand, thrift shop finery, I’m much better dressed than I used to be.

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