This is a chapter from my unfinished memoire. I was about half way through the first draft when I came up with the idea to turn my spiritual journey into a Visionary Fiction novel. But I thought this would be a fun read for you!
If the Shoe Fits I love shoes! I love the smell of leather, the feel of it under my fingers – the way it can catch the light when it has been tanned to a high gloss -- I was thinking about this as I was standing in my walk-in closet, looking up at the rows of shoes that filled the right hand side of the built in shelves – rows and rows heels of varying shapes and heights – colors and materials. Some – the REALLY special ones, were still lovingly wrapped in their original tissue paper, protected in their brightly-colored boxes from their country of origin.
Shoes I had purchased from all over the world – in small boutiques on the Rive Gauche or The Ponte Vecchio or Via Veneto. In the large department or specialty stores like Harrods of London or Bon Marche in Paris and Macy’s New York.
Each one from a trip that I had taken representing various steps along the path of my fashion career from fashion assistant to one of the top textile designers in NYC, to fashion coordinator at Lord and Taylor New York to becoming a Fashion Designer and on to becoming a Fashion Director in my own right, attending the Fashion shows in all the fashion capitals of the world and hobnobbing with Fashionistas from Gerri (Stutz) from Bendels, Kal Ruttenstein from Bloomies, and Diana Vreeland from Vogue to Donatella and bro Gianni (now, there was an interesting sister/brother act!), Roberto Gucci et al and brief shoulder brushes with VALENTINO and GEORGIO! Whoo Hoo!
I looked up at the black stilettos from that trip – I had only worn those shoes once – the day I bought them. They were much too uncomfortable to wear except to sitting at dinner at Harry’s Bar. But they were gorgeous! I took them out of now-yellowed tissue, the smell of the leather still new even almost 20 years later. Thump – into the box...
The phone had rung early that morning of May 18, 1998. It was Sherry, from an executive search firm that I had been working with looking for positions as either a Fashion Director or merchandiser for the past three weeks, since my exit as DMM in product development from a local family-owned department store.
It had been the proverbial job from hell, or shall I say, I had had the boss from hell. But that could be a book in and of itself: “ Jobs from Hell and Bosses from Hades” – I’ll bet you could be my co author!
So there was Sherry, calling me at the crack of dawn, all excited. “Rebecca, you’ll never believe, finally, Target is looking for a TREND MANAGER!!!”
“Are you there!?”
“Ya, I said, “Gimme a minute, I’m trying to let it sink in...”
She must have thought I was in stunned excitement. But I was actually in stunned dismay. For years I had been lusting after that job. Ever since I had decided to leave Kmart Corp, where I had designed Jaclyn Smith, Kathy Ireland and various other private labels in their ready-to-wear and accessory divisions, I had wanted THAT job at Target. But it had not been vacant in these past five years or so. And now, NOW, when I had finally made the decision NOT to go back to the fashion business, but to go out on my own and completely change direction with my life – NOW they call.
“Sherry – I need to get back to you – I’m actually in the middle of something and can’t really talk right now.”
“Ah – well...OK, but they have your resume and they REALLY want you to come for an interview right away!”
“Great, I’ll call you back before the day is over – thanks!”
I hung up the phone, and looked up at the shelf of shoes again, put down the box I had been clutching in my hand, went into the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee and went out on my deck.
I stared at the wooded landscape – God how I loved this house! The sun was just peeking over the top of the trees, the morning mist having melted away from the hidden lake behind the emerald green leaves. I breathed in the smells of pine and freshly mowed grass, my sense of ownership welling up in my chest - this was mine – my first house, and I had bought it all by myself.
I was heading towards my 45 birthday in July, and I was faced with the biggest decision of my life. I was single, never married, had just been forced to walk out of a job or loose my health and my mind. Just a few weeks prior to that I had found out that the back surgery I had had the August before had indeed caused permanent damage to my leg/ankle/foot that would greatly inhibit my ability to go gallivanting all over the world in search of that next, great fashion trend.
To complicate matters, I had also been ordained as a non denominational minister in May of that year, finally wrapping up 6 long years of study during my recuperation from that spinal fusion.. And now, this very morning , I had decided that I would leave the fashion industry behind me for good - and begin a ministry by way of becoming a speaker and start to teach some classes. And then the phone call, with my “dream job” no less! I let out a big sigh: “Well, I’m in the South, so I’m gonna play Scarlett O’Hara for a day, and think about it tomorrow!”
So I stomped back to my closet in defiance against no one in particular (or maybe it was God) and continued to clean out the shoes. After all, that was not going to change. I still couldn’t wear them!
Next in line were the electric blue patent leather flats I had purchased in 1986, from that funky shop off Kings Rd. in London, as a fledging Fashion Director for Sanger Harris in Dallas, Texas. Running my finger around the bright yellow piping, I cringed at the memory of the equally bright “bumble bee yellow” tights I had found to match them in a favorite hosiery shop that all of us Fashionistas would frequent on our quarterly trips to Milan - what was it’s name?? That was my second trip to Europe. Now that was a trip for the history books!
After our first round of AMC meetings in Florence, several of us from the store, the GMM, DMMs and buyers - all went out to one of those cute little outdoor cafes for cappuccino to talk about what we had just seen and how we would buy the lines later in the week. I was acting all sophisticated.
I mean , really, I had been here before, and they were looking to me for my expertise as the fashion maven. Just as I was beginning to wax profound, lifting the frothing cup of java to my lips, a local pigeon flying overhead - thwap! - relieved itself of its last meal into my beverage!
Amid the stunned silence, the warm, gooey, brown liquid splashed into my eyes and quickly oozed all over my still-to-be-paid-for designer suit, stopping me in mid sentence. Then a few smirks from my “nemesis” fellow fashion director, a few guffaws from the men in the group, and a red-faced groan from me as I sprang up. Fortunately one of the DMMs, Linda S. was a bit more compassionate, and she went with me back to the hotel to change.
This was one of those defining moments of my career, as I started to learn:
#1 don’t take yourself so seriously,
#2 learn who your friends are,
#3 understand that your friends aren’t going necessarily going to be your friends once you loose or change jobs and
#4 always look UP for guidance before opening your mouth!
Then my hand reached up for the brown stacked heels that I had coveted from that chic boutique around the corner from the Duomo in Milan during my first trip to the Mipel leather show, where I had run into Joan Halpern of Joan and David. We had subsequently developed a fast friendship over the years as we continued to share our views on the psychology of color and trends in leather and accessories. Joan was one of those wonderful women who could be very generous when she took a liking to you (which was the only reason those shoes were in my closet) and I remember her fondly.
I wish I had kept in touch with her, along with another woman, Cecilia Castoldi, who lived in Florence.
There again was another generous human being. I thought of her too, as my eyes roamed over to the collection of Gucci that lined another row of my closet – but these were handbags and totes, so they were safe from the carnivorous box.
I was still the accessory fashion coordinator at Sanger Harris then. I hadn’t yet been promoted to Corporate Fashion Directo, over the “nemesis” director, LK, who was the RTW fashion coordinator (Ready To Wear) when I had arrived at Sanger Harris, so excited to be back on home turf in Dallas. One of my shoe vendors had given me Cecilia’s name, as she sat on the International Color Counsel and Marvin thought she would be a great resource for me.
We were sitting in her husband’s ancestral home in Florence one evening on one of my trips, chatting away, exchanging ideas.
I loved these evenings with Cecilia, she always made me feel so wise and knowledgeable. She had this theory about how the Americans invented sportswear – but the Italians made it chic. I went on to add that the Parisians dictated Fashion – but we made it saleable! We were laughing about this, when all of a sudden the big hallway clock started chiming, startling us both. “Oh my God”, Cecilia exclaimed, “I’m going to be late for dinner!”
Then she turned to me – “Why don’t you come with me – I’m sure there’s plenty of room at the table – it’s the fashion show of my daughter’s boyfriend’s father.
“Oh, no, I couldn’t – I’m not dressed” I protested.
Those were the days of utilitarian jumpsuits. I was wearing a grey “distressed” jumpsuit with burnt orange leather patches I had just purchased in Milan with a matching pair of boots I had, amazingly, found in London.
“You look FABulous, don’t worry –they will love it. It is a perfect look. After all – you are an American, it is sportswear – and you do it so well!” We threw our heads back and laughed again at how clever we were. So I agreed to go to her friend’s show for dinner. It didn’t even cross my mind to ask who her friend was. I figured they were a “local”, perhaps second tier designer, since she hadn’t mentioned any names.
It turned out to be at one of those palatial Florence homes, very old, that had been turned into a restaurant that the Fashion Crowd loved to use for these special showings. As we got out of the car, amid the flashing paparazzi cameras, I looked up at the banners waving over the entrance: “Gucci”. I gulped - Yup – her daughter was dating a Gucci. And not just any Gucci, but Roberto, no less – the secondo head of the clan, next to his nephew, Maurizio.
So there I was, sitting with the Gucci’s at their table, watching their show, smiling and nodding, trying to act chic and wiser than my 34 yrs, surrounded by the glitterati of Italy’s Fashion Business – what a TRIP!
Ya – I should have stayed in touch with Cecilia.
But life happens and the fashion business moves quickly. And that was before the internet, and I was never very good at writing those little follow up notes. But more importantly, my life just moved so very fast in those days – did I just say in those day?! My life always seems to move fast. It’s because I am always restless. I never seem to be satisfied with where I am, who I am or what I’m doing.
Have you ever had those times in your life?
And back in those days, I always seemed to change jobs either by choice - or not - VERY quickly.
The other reasons were my very inability to stay focused, which were a totally different dynamic from the restlessness.
One dynamic seemed to be from my soul – the other from my brain function. At the time I didn’t know about my learning disability. (ADHD was not in common usage then). I just knew that I was a “sensitive” or shall I say “intuitive” along with hoping from one thing to another. I always seemed to have this sixth sense about what was going to be “in” because of my ability to tune into the pulse of the psyche of the customer. It was a “gut feeling”, I would demur – not telling anyone at the time this 6th sense I had always had from the time I was a child, when I could sense this whole invisible realm around me - see things and feel things that the grown ups couldn’t quite seem to grasp.
A gift and a curse Carol Parrish had told me when I had later entered Seminary in 1986.
Oh well, I thought, as I picked up the brown Joan & David pumps, back to the task at hand. My hands caressed the smooth, gleaming leather: I closed my eyes and let my thoughts drift back to those trips in the early days of my fashion career - I could smell the fall air as I walked out of the Hotel Regina across to the courtyard of the Louvré in Paris – where some the fashion shows would be held beneath tents. The smells of the street vendors and perfumes all mingled together with sweat as the lines of paparazzi strained against the barriers. The fashion editors, buyers and fashion directors, I among them, would be herded into the reserved seats, each of us clutching our tickets as the gold they were.
All the scenes of my fashion career, the faces, the places – flashed before my eyes like those of a drowning man about die – for in way, I was. I was about to die. Die to the life I had known for most of my adult life; a life that those rows and rows of shoes represented to me – each one a piece of my fashion career at a different level of its growth and development. A career that was about to end. A career that no longer fit. Just as those shoes could no longer fit the feet that used to wear them.
At least – not the left foot. For the left foot – from the toes all the way up to the knee – no longer functioned – could no longer even hold one of those shoes on. I certainly could not wear a high heel without having the ankle turn under and snap like a twig – for there was no muscle left on the bone – it had all atrophied. I vacillated between anger, ambivalence, despair, and hope during those moments standing in my closet - truly the moment of truth. The truth was – I had a decision to make. Just as those shoes no longer fit – neither did my former life in the fashion business. That dream was gone. But -- It had been realized to some extent– lived and fulfilled. Now another one was about to begin.
So buck up Missy, the little voice in my head said, let’s get on with it… My heart was beating and my breath was shallow.
All of a sudden I knew what I had to say to Sherry, what I had to do.
And it scared the hell out of me. But it excited me as well. The speech began to form in my head, ready with an explanation of why, after haunting this executive search firm for years about this position – my “dream job” – why, when it was finally available and mine for the taking—I was about to not only turn it down – but walk away from the industry forever...
It had begun 13 months earlier with round two of spinal surgery in an attempt to get out of mind-numbing pain from 4 ruptured discs that kept rupturing due to degenerative disc disease. This time the damage was so extensive that I had lost most of the use of the lower part of the left side of my body from the waist down. The surgery was really in an attempt to relieve the pain – the ability to use my leg again was in considerable doubt, which was confirmed after the spinal fusion was performed in August of ’96, as the nerve damage to the peroneal nerve was extensive. It caused my left foot to hang down and drag, and none of my toes functioned, especially my big toe.
BUT - If I had taken my doctors reality for my own – I might have been in a wheel chair today – and not writing this book about how I rebuilt my body, my life, my career and challenging myself to be more than I was in this moment.
I might not have picked up that phone on May 18, 1998 and said, “Hi Sherry, thanks so much for all the time and effort you put into getting me that job offer at XYZ. But I’ve decided that I am going to listen to my Soul’s call and go out to change the world by telling everyone that they are not human beings with a soul – but are really soul’s having a human experience. Oh yes – and did I tell you that I just graduated from seminary last year? And I have decided that the world is in need of being uplifted in the corporate arena, and I want to teach spiritual principles and values in the global marketplace, so that I can uplift the vibratory frequency of the planet so that it too can make it’s sacred initiation. And most of all, I want to be able to change the world – one thought and one heart at a time by teaching everyone how to meditate!
Now, Sherry will tell you, what SHE heard was, “Hi Sherry, this is Rebecca Nagy, and I want to thank you so much for taking all the time and effort in getting me that job offer from Target. But I’ve decided to start my own consulting company and do training seminars in work/life balance and stress management. Would love to know of any HR people you might know of who might be interested in this type of program! Let’s keep in touch, and maybe we can collaborate on a project from time to time.
But I knew in my heart, as I looked down at my left leg, as the still small voice whispered, as though in a dream…whispered by my Soul… the words I needed to pay attention to. I knew in my heart that as I looked down at my left foot – encased in the marvelous modern plastic invention called an AFO. The leg brace was really a magical trellis that allowed me to stand straight and tall – helping me stabilize as I began my new growth into my new life as a speaker and teacher. Helping me to stand on my own and realize a new dream – my soul’s dream. The dream of helping others realize that we are more than we ever thought we could be – we are more than our physical selves.
Teilard de Chardin, the French mystic and philosopher put said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” And perhaps my favorite: to paraphrase another great mind – the problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them. Einstein knew that we needed to begin to think in new ways.
I like to think it’s not about thinking outside of the box – it’s about not even recognizing that there is a box – that there is in fact an unlimited universe that goes way beyond anything we can possibly imagine – and we need to think and dream BIG not small…and reach high not low – and beyond what we think we can do – and, well - just – DO it...
So I went back to my closet, took the box that was on the floor beside me, and stepped back up onto the step stool, being careful to hold onto the sides of the shelving of the closet for balance, and with one fell swoop – thwap! – scooped the first row of shoes into the box…continuing to let go of the past as each shoe dropped into the box.
Thump…thumm….pp…. one by one…shelf by shelf…
Then, finally, there went the Ferragamos that I had gotten on sale all those many years ago in the late 70’s. My first job – as the assistant to the late, great Billie Gordon, one of the most famous Textile stylists in NYC.
And I smiled as I remembered that MY devil had worn Ferragamo...