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Worn Wisdom and Mercer Sweatshirts

If the house were on fire, I would grab it first. Forget the jewels, forget my grandparents’ marriage certificate, forget the Hall family photos, and if Fat Frank the Cat does her stubborn cat thing, then such is her choice and decisions will have to be made. If the house is on fire, I am grabbing the circa 1990 Mercer Sweatshirt.

I was young, delightfully stupid and full of possibility when I found her hanging in the bookstore at Mercer University with a $50 price tag. Fifty dollars is incredibly expensive, even for today’s standards. I have no idea how I ever afforded her on a college freshman’s budget, but from the first day I saw her, I had to have her. That sentiment remains still, some 30 years and a hypothetical housefire later. I wish I knew why. I wish I could explain why I would choose this old ragged and friendly sweatshirt even over my pristinely framed diplomas, but I would. Every time I would.

Mercer Sweatshirt has seen me through a lot. She is a map telling of my journeys, she is a diary telling me how I have changed. I was kinder to myself as a college freshman. I allowed myself to learn of theories and thinkers. As a student I could try new ideas on—I could keep what I liked and disregard the rest. Freshmen are made to be stretched out by new ideas coming in. Freshmen are allowed the failures indigenous to being a beginner. As a freshman I was allowed to have growing pains.

Something shifted. I get ashamed of growing pains now. Somewhere in between 1990 and 2020 my expectations became heavier. My head became a little harder. My heart is more apprehensive. I don’t allow myself as much grace for the wear and tear of mistakes and failures. I can be very unkind to myself. Perhaps such is the way of getting older, the way of the world, the way of life. Except I can’t live in a world where life weighs that much. I need space to stretch out. I need permission to grow threadbare. I need the comfort that says, “Go ahead. Try it. Perfection was never the goal.” I need the warmth of a worn wisdom to protect me. I still need for there to be a space where mistakes are accepted, sometimes even respected. I got a lot of learning left to do. I got a lot of failures left in me. I don’t know what I don’t know. I am, even still, a freshman. Maybe you are too.

Maybe this is why Mercer Sweatshirt is the first thing I am saving in the fire. I need everything Mercer Sweatshirt represents. There is something really precious about becoming more and more comfortable as the days progress. There is peace in being allowed to mess up in the name of living. There is beauty in being kept around simply because there is no such thing as a replacement.  Mostly though, there is something sacred when my soul says, “Try, try again, young one. There is so much more to see.”