Monday, April 11, 2011

Clothes Make the Man

A little while after the Furman, there was the Hayes.  Fully loaded with cable, the Furman left Portsmouth Harbor bound for the Far East on a rainy spring morning.  Miss Patty and I watched from the lighthouse base in New Castle.  A largely new crew had been assigned to the ship, and those of us who had been sick were taken off.  It was with mixed feelings that we watched the Furman sail away.  The time I had spent aboard this ship was also the longest interval that she and I had been together since the day we met.  That would soon change, though.

The Hayes had also been secured to a pier for a long time, but her pier was at company headquarters in Bayonne, New Jersey.  I moved back into the family headquarters on Long Island and commuted to the ship by automobile each afternoon and returned to the house late at night.  Commander Whitten, still recovering from his heart surgery and related problems, was also reassigned from the Furman to the Hayes.  Nick the Greek had gone to the Hayes ahead of us but did not stay long.  He eventually took a medical retirement.

Unlike the Furman, which had been in a semi-active status while slowly loading cable, the Hayes had been all but taken out of service.  She was waiting to be towed to a shipyard for a major rebuilding, but it was not a high priority job.  The wheels of the office bureaucracy turned very slowly, and the Hayes simply sat there and waited for something to happen. Consequently, there was very little work for us to do.  The Hayes was thus even more of a hospital ship than the Furman had been.

The mates’ schedule on the Hayes rotated so that everyone would have three days off once every three weeks.  I used these occasions to return to New Hampshire, visit Miss Patty, and complete the bedroom for the baby which we were by this time expecting.  As an alternative to more driving in the middle of the night, I often rode the trains between New York and Boston.  Enroute to New Hampshire, I would leave Manhattan aboard the Night Owl at 3:00am on Saturday.  Miss Patty would meet me at South Station in Boston at 8:00am and convey me to our house in Nashua.  While this may sound like a terrible schedule, it was actually quite convenient.  Aboard the Night Owl, I slept very well.

Of the several times that I travelled from New York to Boston aboard the Night Owl, one in particular stands out.  On most of these journeys I dressed decently but informally.  On this particular night, however, I wore a navy blue suit and a dress shirt. I brought my few other belongings in an airline carry-on bag marked with the Pan Am name and emblem.  Once aboard the train, I took the window seat in a two-seat section, removed my jacket and tie, and set them down with the Pan Am bag on the empty adjacent seat.  Nothing remarkable, really; I just wanted to get comfortable and go to sleep.

As the Night Owl eased her way out of the Pennsylvania Station and into the tunnels, the conductor came through the car to collect tickets and fares.  He, of course, was dressed in a formal railroad uniform as he carried out these duties.  I saw him go from seat to seat and heard him speak to all the passengers as he collected their fares and punched their tickets.  He was unfailingly polite and professional in all of these transactions.  Then he came to the section where I was sitting. 

He paused for just a moment and looked at me and at the dark blue jacket and necktie and Pan Am bag on the adjacent seat.  I said “Good evening” to him and held out the money for my fare.  Seeming slightly startled, he smiled broadly and responded enthusiastically, “Good evening, sir.  Welcome aboard.  We’re very glad to have you with us tonight, sir.  Are you going to Boston, sir?  That’ll be so many dollars, sir.” I gave him the money, and as he punched my ticket he continued, “Thank you, sir.  We expect to arrive in Boston right on time at eight o’clock.  If there’s anything you need, sir, please let us know.  Have a very pleasant journey, sir, and thank you very much for travelling on Amtrak.”

            I thanked him, too, and he continued with his duties.  As I sat back to doze off, I wondered what his excessive politeness toward me was all about.  I had heard him speak to the other passengers before he reached me, and afterwards I listened more carefully as he spoke with the passengers sitting behind me.  He was consistently polite and courteous to all of them, but not to the same degree.  He did not call any of them “sir” or “ma’am,” did not advise them of the expected arrival time, did not offer assistance with anything they needed, and did not address them with an obviously elevated level of enthusiasm.  As he got farther away from me his voice grew less audible.  Soon thereafter, I fell asleep.

I woke up briefly a while later when the Night Owl made a station stop.  I looked out the window to see how far the train had gone, then shifted in my seat to go back to sleep.  In this brief interval, the same conductor walked through the coach again.  As he passed my seat he looked in my direction, smiled at me again, and nodded in acknowledgement.  I returned the greeting, got comfortable, and went back to sleep.  When I next woke up, it was time to disembark in Boston.

In the car enroute from Boston to Nashua, I told Miss Patty about this curious incident.  She had a ready answer.  “He probably thought you were a pilot.  You could have been on your way from JFK to Logan for your next flight.  He probably doesn’t see too many pilots riding the trains.  You looked the part, though, and he noticed it.” 

This sounded reasonable, even quite likely.  But if true, the conductor had been very much mistaken.  My brother Robert was the Pan Am pilot, and he had given me the Pan Am bag. The resemblance of my clothing—which admittedly could have been folded to conceal insignia—to a pilot’s uniform was purely coincidental.  Looked at in this light, the train conductor’s politeness to me over and above his standard courteous manner with the other passengers seemed amusing.  I had not been at all what I appeared to be.  It was my clothing and my one accessory that had unintentionally transformed me into the image of an airline pilot.

The simple fact of the matter, though, is that what a person wears says something about him.  This can be either deliberate or accidental; either way, clothes communicate.  If they do not literally make the man, they at least project an image of the man.  I was fortunate aboard the Night Owl in that I had unintentionally projected a good and honorable image.  Better to be mistaken for an airline pilot than a bank robber!

What a person wears says something about him not only to others, but also to himself.  A man who would attend church on Sunday unshaven and dressed in sweat pants and a tank top, for example, conveys the message to both himself and others that church is not important to him.  Another man, dressed in a suit and tie and properly groomed, conveys an entirely different message.  By his appearance, he says in essence that church is important and worth the time and effort spent on preparation for it.  His appearance further indicates an attitude of respect and reverence for the things of God.  By contrast, the unshaven fellow in the sweats gives the impression of laziness and displays a disrespectful and uncaring attitude toward religion.

In a statement of reprimand, the Lord asserted, “you have treated lightly the things you have received” (D&C 84:54).  When we consider what exactly we have received in the fullness of the Gospel and the opportunity to attend the temple, treating it all lightly should not even enter the picture.  It is a given that the Lord deserves to be shown respect by his people; good grooming and decent dress form an obvious expression of this respect.  Furthermore, as children of Heavenly Father, we owe it to ourselves and each other to be decently dressed and well groomed.  This indicates self-respect and respect for others, reciprocal acknowledgements of self-worth, fitting for a species created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27).

Taking a different point of view, the secular world judges people by their appearances and treats them accordingly.  Dress and grooming can make or break appearances.  Of course, this is all superficial and does not necessarily represent the true inner self of a person, but the world is frequently a superficial place.  People often like or dislike other people because of their appearances, which is irrational. 

For more rational reasons, employees in honest and important professions dress according to company policies or in company uniforms.  The railroad and airline personnel are but two examples of this.  What they wear while on duty not only identifies them to their passengers, but also indicates that they have met certain standards and can be entrusted with public safety.  Their attire demonstrates respect for their professions and elicits both the respect and trust of the travelling public.   

My father has often asserted that if the average American were invited to a state dinner at the White House, he and his family would dress up in the best clothes they owned for the occasion.  Some folks would even go shopping and purchase entirely new outfits.  If people think that the President of the United States is deserving of such a display of respect and good manners, he would then ask, how much more so is God?

While not alone in this thinking, my father often feels outnumbered.  Several years ago two missionaries in Nashua, Elder Zoldana and Elder Cockane, paid a visit to Saint Francis Xavier Church one Saturday afternoon.  This building was one hundred years old and had recently undergone an extensive refurbishing.  Restored to its original grandeur inside and out, it was truly beautiful, and the missionaries, like many others, wanted to see it.  In the interest of discretion, they removed their name tags as they entered the church after Mass had finished.  They walked around quietly and admired the art and architecture of the building.  Presently, the parish priest came along and engaged them in a friendly conversation.  At one point he said to them, “Are you fellows Mormons?”

“Yes,” they replied, and one of them asked, “How could you tell?”

“Well,” sighed the priest sadly, “it seems like the Mormons are the only people who get dressed up for church anymore.”

The Lord has instructed us, “Trifle not with sacred things” (D&C 6:10).  Dressing and grooming properly for the Lord, for church, for ourselves, and for one another raises people above the level of trifles and demonstrates respect and reverence for the Lord and those created in his image.  In a world where such a standard is often sadly absent, doing so does not go unnoticed.  The reactions of the parish priest at Saint Francis Xavier to the visiting missionaries and of the conductor aboard the Night Owl to a passenger he evidently mistook for a Pan Am pilot demonstrate this point.

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