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What the Man with the Silk Umbrella Taught Me About Living My Life

If you’ve been to Chicago in the summer, you understand just how glorious those bright, sunny, but not too hot days can be. It was just such a day that I trekked from my hotel in the Magnificent Mile to the video studio, where we were producing a training video for my employer.

I had consciously chosen a hotel close to the lake, shopping, and the vitality of the downtown center. I knew it meant a 2-mile walk to the studio each day, but in my mind, there are few things better than a walk in a big city.

If you’ve been to Chicago in the summer, you also know that afternoon thunderstorms can materialize seemingly without warning. And as you suspect, that was exactly what happened to me on the way back to my hotel room.

The storm appeared suddenly, and the downpour was heavy and unrelenting. People scattered, and I was fortunate enough to find a doorway to take shelter. It was recessed and, as such, a bit dark. In a few moments, my eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, and I noticed that I was not alone.

Sharing this doorway was a well-dressed businessman, I suspected in his thirties. We exchanged small talk as the storm continued to pelt those who passed by with unrelenting wetness. After about ten minutes, one begins to wonder if a dash through the rain might be the preferred option to spending even more time huddled in a doorway.

As I weighed my options, I noticed that the gentleman sharing this space with me had an umbrella. Taken aback, I inquired. “I see you have an umbrella. What keeps you here in the doorway when you could be on your way?”

The man replied without any hint of irony, “This is a very expensive silk umbrella. I don’t want to get it wet.”

To this day, I still remember the perplexity of the (presumably) smart businessman who refused to get his umbrella wet. This situation has become a metaphor for me, causing me to think about how many “silk umbrellas” I carry around.

Some examples are in order!

What physical items in my life do I deem too precious to use and enjoy? There are obvious things – like the good china, the fine beautiful crystal, and the flowers in my yard that I hesitate to cut and place on my desk. Or the luxurious cashmere sweater I save for special occasions, only wearing it once or twice per year.

I also have some emotional connections that I treat as silk umbrellas. Concerned that if I open up and become vulnerable, this precious thing inside me will be at risk. How often do I fail to laugh, hug, console, or share deeply – protecting something precious but untouched? Far too often, I can hold back those emotional risks and only take them when there is no danger of rejection, ridicule, or some other imagined catastrophe.

Our talents and gifts are other things we often treat as silk umbrellas. We can guard fiercely rather than share freely. It’s easy in our culture to own up to our shortcomings, but harder to claim our gifts. What talents and skills do I possess that I dismiss, diminish, or fail to bring into the light?

Then there are our passions. Opening those umbrellas can be challenging, for we may defer them (someday I’ll…..) or relegate them to a small rather than central part of our lives. We may love to travel, but limit our travels to a few weekends or a measly week a year. We may love to be in nature but not make time for it. We may adore the movies but fail to go unless we have someone to go with us.

I believe that we each have our own silk umbrellas in some form or fashion. Once we see them for what they are – we can permit ourselves to do things like:

  • Bring beauty into every day by using our beautiful and treasured possessions
  • Taking an emotional risk to connect with another human – and brush it off if our attempts are rejected
  • Use our unique talents and skills – without having to downplay them
  • Do something we are passionate about daily – without wild abandon

So take a look around and find your silk umbrellas. Get them out – open them up – enjoy them today. I suspect that when you do, you’ll find more sunshine than rain clouds.

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