From Chasing Independence to Building Compassion

Hello, friends!

As most of you know, I’m home, and (for the most part) loving itttt. Do I have moments where I have severe nostalgia for sternly telling one of my favorite students to stop standing on his chair, for eating an entire Las Gringas pizza in one sitting, giving weekly reports on my class during the volunteer meeting, and dancing my booty off to bass-thumping Spanish pop music? Of course.

But I also love having a full-size bed all to myself, my fur babies (read: Azul and Tonka), and being able to hug my parents whenever I feel like it.

He’s pretty into the whole “if it fits, I sits” thing. Which is cute. In theory.
This one, on the other hand, like her personal space way more than she loves me.
So, how do I balance being home with the inevitable nostalgia? Well, I found something to do, that I enjoy, that also pays me money. Not much, mind you, but if I were to distill what I learned abroad into a single lesson it would be this: The most meaningful things I will do in life most likely share an inverse relationship with financial gain. Case in point: I’m currently working as a wedding stylist for a national wedding-store retailer, where I have 90 minutes with each bride to help them find their wedding dress.

Yes, it is JUST LIKE “Say Yes to the Dress”–and then some. For starters, they never show you exactly what goes into getting brides into some of the dresses they want to try on, (Vera Wang, have you, personally, ever tried to carry one of your ballgowns?) or mention the thick callous that forms on the finger that bears the force of the hangers, from which dresses weighing in at anywhere between three and ten pounds dangle. Or how sweaty you get throughout the course of the appointment. I could go on for a bit.

But you know what? It’s so worth it.

My first time out on the floor and shadowing an appointment turned into my taking the appointment myself while my mentor took a walk-in (read: unexpected–more on those later) appointment. Suddenly, I was tasked with finding a dress for a young woman who was looking for a dress for wedding #2, with her mother and young daughter from her first marriage in rapt attendance.

Our iPad training prepares us for the logistics of selling dresses; it teaches us how to present ourselves, the different dress silhouettes and the type of figure they’re most flattering on, how to accessorize, etc.  The technical stuff. But the training leaves off at a point that is difficult to teach, and difficult to name, but I would say, generally, it’s the point of compassion.

I’ve worked with brides with all sorts of personalities and quirks, and each one of them has added a new layer to my understanding of what it means to be compassionate and how I can best use my learning to make better, more authentic connections with people. Brides, for as much as stereotypes would cast them as either “bridezilla” or “glowing”, have all fallen somewhere between the two based on my experience with them. It’s impossible to present them with the generic, friendly version of myself that I might present to the typical stranger, and still do my job well. Thus, getting to know my brides requires a level of comfort with myself that can only be expressed via confidence in intimacy.

When I’m helping a bride into a wedding dress, we’re in a claustrophobically small room where I can feel tension in her thoughts before she even articulates them. If she does. If she doesn’t, it’s my prerogative to make her comfortable enough to unburden herself so that she can be present for what should be a positive experience. These little moments, where communication occurs via body language, are where I’m learning to gently insert a lighthearted question or a kind observation.

I took this job because I thought I would enjoy it and because I knew it would give me a ton of inspiration for characters and stories. I was not expecting that in addition to both of those things, it would suggest that becoming a better writer is not mutually exclusive from becoming a better person.

On workdays, we wear black, and on the day before Valentine’s Day, I chopped all my hair off. But that’s a story for another time.





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