By Kathleen Hoy Foley
“What’s a guy like you doing selling soap?” The words drifted out of my mouth before the finicky Miss Manners who camps inside my brain had a chance to rouse herself and bink me on the side of the head. To be fair, he looked like he’d be more at home in a prison—on either side of the bars—or heaving meat carcasses across his shoulders in the back of a butcher shop, not surrounded by a sensory display of handmade soaps. Surely there was a big, old Harley waiting somewhere…
But there he was, bearded and ponytailed. All bulk and muscles poured into a tank top. Every inch of skin exposed below his neck tattooed with thick, gray-blue arcs. Extolling the virtures of herbs and lather, and essential oils. The best scent for a closet? I asked. French Lavender, he answered without hesitation, using the romance language so familiar to those in the business of creating products to soothe the soul. Great. I’ll take one. All that soul-soothing…a steal at five dollars a pop.
And then as energy does—beckons and connects seemingly over the trivial to reveal the significant—the story of his eldest son unfolded. A heartbreak in a family of go-getters, this young man is a hardcore heroin addict turned criminal, living who-knows-where in a drugged stupor, supporting his addiction one burglary at a time. All attempts at counseling and rehab failed. Five hundred dollar an hour therapists, he complained, and nothing.
The story was very familiar. It sounded like the plot of a B-movie I could have written myself, down to the pricey counselors and the drug-addled, criminal exploits. My brother died of a heroin overdose, I said. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. He shrugged. That’s all I’m waiting for now, the phone call telling me my kid’s dead.
Standing there in the middle of sweetly scented soap, yet separated by years and seriously contrasting appearances—me bedecked in enough bling to blind an innocent bystander; he sporting tattoos wild enough to frighten little children and small animals—the story of a shared tragedy converged. And despite the disparity between crystals and ink, youth and age, I am reminded once again, of the unity of experiences. Of the shared threads of pain and growth. Of ugliness and beauty. Of failure. And escape. Of contraction into darkness. Of expansion into light. Of brokenness. Of healing. Of drudgery. Of creation.
For a few moments, the debris and chaos obstructing the sight of the energetic connection to “the strange and different other,” falls away and what remains is the unassailable truth—that everyone I encounter is the same, all are struggling with something profoundly significant in their lives. And I am reminded once again that beauty can prevail alongside of pain. That crystals and ink and bars of handmade soap can converge at anytime, even at a raggedy flea market on the way to nowhere, and offer up an unexpected link of understanding and inspiration. This day it took the form of one tattooed biker dude involved in his personal process of healing, of creating beauty, and presenting it into the world—one French Lavender bar of soap at a time.
I am grateful.