Jims Old Coat
Jim looked out of the hall window and up at the grey sky. He was planning to go out and, as always, was feeling a bit apprehensive. He was sure that it was going to rain.
A secret part of him hoped that it would rain very hard and prevent him from going out. The sensible part realised that this was not going to happen, probably only a light shower so he would need to put on his old coat.
He went into the hallway and took his old coat off the hook and started to put it on.
As he struggled to put his left arm into the sleeve, he momentarily wondered why his heart felt a little heavier and familiar feelings of anxiousness started to bubble up.
He was hoping to get out of the door before his wife saw him. But the difficulties in putting on a coat that he had long outgrown, finding and doing up the remaining buttons and his anxiety about going out had delayed him too long.
“Jim!! You are not going out of this house in that awful old coat surely!” Unsure as to whether his wife was asking a question or giving a command, Jim mumbled something to his chest as he busied himself fiddling with the buttons and smoothing down the pockets to feign pride in an attempt to convince his wife that it was not as bad as she thought.
The ploy didn't work. Jim knew that it wouldn't for the battle was always lost before it began”. Look at yourself” she said with a voice mixed with anger, pity and love.
“You've had that old coat for far too long; we have been married for over 30 years and you had it before I even met you. I thought that when we married I would convince you that you no longer needed that old thing and we would start a new life leaving all the useless old stuff behind.”
“The coat is dirty, has tears and most of the buttons are missing”. Anger gave way to love as her voice softened and she continued. “Don't you see the way other people react to you?”
Jim said sheepishly that of course he noticed. “People look at me slightly sideways and avoid eye contact. It's as though I am from another planet, they avoid me and certainly try not to sit next to me on the bus.”
“Doesn't that upset you?” said his wife. “Do you not realise that you always wear that coat when you leave the house? The coat doesn't fit, and is almost Edwardian in its styling and values!”
Jim felt very uncomfortable with these truths. He knew she was right but felt powerless to change.
His shoulders had dropped and he began to mutter to the last steadfast button as he fiddled with it ensuring that he didn't look his wife in the eye. He felt small and vulnerable, like a child being told off and not understanding why. He wanted to defend his position but could muster neither the courage nor a cogent argument. So he chose to try and excuse his behaviour by proxy of a confession.
“My father gave me this coat when I was very young”. “It didn't fit of course and I didn't really want it. As I grew he made me keep on trying it on and eventually it fitted”. Jim continued despairingly, “The boys at school were always taking the Mickey and calling me names, but I didn't feel strong enough to argue, so I kept away from them and spent more time on my own”.
Sensing his pain, his wife had mixed feelings about what she should now say. She desperately wanted him to get rid of the coat knowing how good he would feel without it, but understood that in his mind, this would be very difficult.
Jim, she thought, would need someone outside of his very small circle of friends and relations to convince him to change his coat and move on.
“Well, if you won't listen to me, why don't you go and talk to that specialist in the high street?” “He is an expert in helping people to change the way they present themselves to the world and he might have some good ideas”.
Jim was reluctant to go as he was sure that, like everyone else, he would simply tell him that he looked ridiculous and would have to get rid of that old coat once and for all. He also realised that once his wife 'got a bee in her bonnet' it was fruitless to keep arguing. So, as with most of his decisions, he took the path of least resistance and acquiesced.
Many thoughts tumbled through his mind as he entered the offices of the specialist. Mainly about how could he find a plausible method of retreat that his wife would accept without question.
Standing outside the door, Jim went through his ritual of running his hands down his coat to smarten it up and then fiddle with the remaining buttons to delay knocking on that door.
He became aware of someone else in the corridor. A smartly dressed man sat quietly on one of the chairs. He gently smiled with his eyes and gave Jim encouragement with an almost imperceptible nod of the head.
Bracing himself, he responded to the “Come in please” and went into the room.
He was greeted by a man with a pleasant smile which made him feel a little more at ease. “Sit yourself down” said the pleasant man and continued, “Your wife telephoned to say you were coming”. “Now, what can I do for you?”
Jim was taken aback. “Wasn't it obvious” he thought. For a brief moment he flirted with the idea that his coat wasn't so bad after all. He began to relax as he realised that this man was not going to judge him on his insistence on wearing this coat, so perhaps there was an opportunity to convince the pleasant man that it was all a lot of fuss about nothing.
And nothing continued until Jim could endure the silence no longer.
“It's my coat”, Jim barked out, “Everyone thinks that it is wrong for me”.
“What do you think”, said the pleasant man quietly.
Jim was unsure as to how he should respond. Does he mean what do I think about the coat or what others think about my coat or what do I think about the way others think about me.
The pleasant man sensed his discomfort and asked “How would you feel if you took the coat off?”
Again, Jim withdrew into his thoughts and then said. “I would feel very uncomfortable”.
“In what ways”, coaxed the pleasant man.
“I would feel vulnerable and ill at ease, it's part of me and who I am”.
“And if I asked you to throw it away or destroy it, what then?”
Jim was now starting to feel quite anxious. “I don't think that I could do that, I have had the coat a long time. It is a part of me and I cannot imagine what it would be like without it. I would feel disrespectful of my father, I would have to make new choices which might be wrong and people would treat me differently”.
The pleasant man continued in his quiet, unassuming way “Go over to the full length mirror Jim and have a look at yourself.”
Jim understood the reason for this and felt a little apprehensive, but could not find a good reason to not to do as asked.
As he stood there looking at himself in that coat, the image of himself that he believed to be true slowly changed and he began to see what others could see.
Sensing this insight, the pleasant man asked Jim to describe what he could see.
“I see a tired, old, worn out coat. The kind that my father would have worn” he said in a tired, worn out voice.
“Is that coat now the kind of thing that you really want to wear?” but before Jim could think too deeply about this, the pleasant man gently started to help Jim remove it.
The pleasant man then helped Jim on with a new coat. “This is more the real you”, he said. “That item inherited from your father was never right for you, how do you now feel about this new coat?”
Jim managed a small smile as he looked a his new self in the mirror. “It feels so light, no longer heavy on my shoulders, it feels much more like me. “Thank you so much” he said then paid the pleasant man for his new garment and walked briskly home.
Arriving home his wife was almost speechless as she saw Jim enter the house. “Jim!”. “You look so different. I am amazed at the transformation. You are actually smiling, you look taller and your eyes look less troubled”. “Your new coat fits and suits you perfectly”.
Jim took off his coat and turned to his wife. “I can't imagine what all the fuss was about. It was only an old coat, all I have done is get a new one!”
The days and weeks then passed quickly and the memory of that old coat passed even quicker. Although the same man, his perception of the world had now changed to a more positive one. He felt less anxious about new experiences and meeting new people. His fathers voice was no longer in his head. It was now his voice, supportive and encouraging. People treated him differently, no longer avoiding him or looking at him quizzically or strangely. In fact the world now treated him in the same way as it treated everyone else ensuring he wasn't even especially noticed, and he delighted in this.
Although the old coat was now a distant long forgotten memory, he did think about the pleasant man from time to time and resolved to go see him and thank him.
So one bright morning, Jim walked brightly to the office of the pleasant man and sat down on one of the chairs in the corridor. He thought that he would wait until he had finished with the current client and he would just poke his head around the door and say his thanks.
As he sat there the door at the end of the corridor opened gingerly and an old man shuffled in. His head was bowed low, shoulders rounded and he looked very troubled uncertain and scruffy.
The old man stood at the office door and shuffled his feet. Jim looked at him and realised that he was not as old as he appeared. The old man turned and looked at Jim.
Jim smiled with his eyes and nodded his head in encouragement.
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