Fake Fur and True Friends: Finding Community in Unlikely Places

What caught my attention was her fluffy fur hat in the midst of worn-out bathrobes, falling-down socks and shapeless winter coats. I was sitting with a group of ladies at an assisted-living facility, trying to survive the freezing cold temperatures on the smoking porch. Every morning each of these women would find their way outside to sit and talk over coffee and cigarettes. They talked about the weather, their families, the staff and other residents. None of them wanted to be there. They talked about a fellow resident who had a clandestine plan to take a bus to California in order to see his brother one last time.

In the midst of their regular morning conversation I complimented this woman’s hat. Turns out it was fake fur, but once she had a real fur coat to match. “Where’s the fur coat?” someone asked. “Oh, that’s long gone,” she explained. “The reason why the hat is still here is because it’s fake.” One day she was taking the bus to work and when she got to the office, she noticed her hat was gone. She looked everywhere for it, but no luck. On her way home she was sitting at the bus stop in the middle of a blizzard, trying to stay warm. She looked down in the gutter and there was her hat, muddy and soaked. She took it home and washed it ten times. Her husband told her that “with all the water and soap she’d used, she could have bought a new hat.” Well, she didn’t want a new hat; she wanted this one. “That was thirty years ago,” she said, “and it still looks brand-new!” another woman exclaimed.

These women had nothing left. Their health was failing them, their choices were minimal, and most of their families lived far away. But on that freezing cold morning, I realized what they did have: each other, a community, formed out of necessity but deeply treasured none-the-less. May we all find a small group of friends that, even in the worst of times, will listen to our stories and notice our dearly-loved hats.