There’s just something about putting on a cloak. It’s as if you stepped into a time machine, transporting yourself back in time when Robin Hood was real, and knights sat around a big round table discussing how they were going to save the kingdom. Add a tunic or a dress from a similar period, and next thing you know, you’re no longer concerned with rush hour traffic, annoying co-workers, or even the price of gas. Donning medieval garb gives you permission to use your imagination to create a society filled with Barons, titles, swords, and armored battles. One simple piece of clothing can give you permission to become someone else, to simply play a role that is unlike your day-to-day reality.
Our suburban family of four had the chance to experience this first-hand when we attended my brother-in-law’s wedding earlier this month. He and his bride met at a Society for Creative Anachronism function in Washington State, so it was fitting that they chose this venue as the setting for their nuptials. However, their request that all guests come attired in period-appropriate clothing made me pause. I mean, there’s retro, and then there’s Retro. People joke about “going Medieval on someone”, but the reality is that this encompasses a very large period of time. The guidelines given were to choose something between the 12th & 16th Century, which wasn’t a lot of help. Hence the cloak. They are easy to sew, and cover up “mundanes” (their word for modern clothing) very effectively.
While at the campground, though, I realized that SCA was far more important to the members than just playing dress-up, fighting with sharp objects, and creating elaborate tent structures. Everyone there got to choose their new name, an identity unlike their routine lives. Where else could a manager at a fast-food restaurant get to have an opportunity to become Queen in her own right by defeating all comers in a heavy armor competition? Or a vet tech be the captain of a mercenary group of sailors and a fencing champion? It was great fun listening to the stories that had been created around their characters, and sometimes heartbreaking to hear about the real lives that waited on the other side of the gathering.
This got me to thinking: what are the stories that we tell ourselves? Sure, it’s easy to slip into a new persona when you don a costume, but isn’t that what we do when we go to work everyday? The suit and tie is beginning to make a comeback in the workplace, because the casual attitude was blurring the lines between professional and personal. Casual Friday was invented to help coworkers lighten up at work, but sometimes the blinders of business attire are better at keeping people focused on living up to their role as employee.
When I was going through my cancer treatments, I made sure to have a full face of makeup, colorful scarves, and a cheerful attitude when I left my house. Yes, it helped me to feel better, but more importantly, I noticed that others around me felt more comfortable. It lessened the concerned looks and questioning glances, and reduced the comments of “are you sure you’re feeling OK?” Of course, there were days when no amount of shellac could cover the fact that I felt awful. Even now, I rarely go out without some form of facial embellishment, even if it’s just lipstick.
Perspective is important when dealing with the roles that we play. I was never a “cancer victim”, merely a person undergoing cancer treatment. I’m a mother, too, but that is merely one side to the multi-faceted woman that is continually evolving. It’s important to remember that you are NOT your job, your role as a parent, your hobby, or your political affiliation. When you stretch your image of yourself to include all aspects of yourself, you can fully expand into your potential as a human being.
If your image includes daring visions of broadswords and swashbuckling adventures, get a cloak and find your tribe. Metaphorically, we’re already doing it every time we get together with friends who enjoy similar interests, so if that’s what butters your bread, go for it. Some people may think of you as frivolous, while others will merely be envious. You get just one chance at this life. Which role do you want to play?