By Rabbi Yaakov Salomon
It’s not easy being a button. For one thing, my home is a factory. It’s noisy, hot and crowded. Life for me and my fellow buttons is mostly dominated by waiting for the chance to connect to a suit.
I was born several months ago in New Delhi. They say New Delhi is nice, but I wouldn’t know. I have spent 100% of my time in a huge crate, surrounded by “friends” of similar ilk. I simply wait…patiently or otherwise, to be put to use. So I don’t get out much.
Some of my fellow buttons are much older than me. Many of them have already appeared on various jackets, or coats, or shirts and they guide us rookies who are still awaiting their initial foray into the World of the Garment. When the lights go dim in the factory each night and the button buzz begins, I listen to the veterans tell their “war stories”- getting lost after a painful separation, cracking, or sometimes just being summarily replaced. It’s scary how one day you can be King of the Hill on a cashmere Burberry two-piece and the next day you could be kicked onto the tracks of a Brighton bound D train.
I try to stay positive. The factory is busy. Every morning the tailors and seamstresses file in and do their thing. I just sit and wait and watch and hope.
Will today be the day? When will I be chosen? How long must I wait, watching my friends being picked out, sewn on, and fulfilling their special purpose in life?
Wow! Look at that! My friend was just affixed to a gorgeous, beige, silk chiffon evening gown. She looks so proud. I am so happy for her. She’ll go to the nicest places and mingle with the ‘upscale’ crowd. That’s what she always wanted.
Me? I’m just a dark navy, natural material, genuine horn suit button. Sometimes I wish I was a shiny brass snap, or a zinc alloy or a pewter buckle, or maybe one of those adorable, hip, pink toggles. But let’s face it. I’m not. I’m just not. That doesn’t mean I don’t have an important role to play. Yes, one day my time will come. I’m sure of it.
ONE MONTH LATER
It was late one Wednesday afternoon. I had spent the day like most others…waiting. At least 30 buttons from my crate had been selected. That’s a lot of goodbyes for one day. To say I didn’t feel sad would be a lie. And then it happened. Whoosh! I felt myself lifted with a sudden burst of energy and cradled into the softest hand I could ever imagine.
“So this is what it’s like,” I mumbled to myself. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think I did both. I knew I’d miss my friends and my home, but at last I’d be somebody. I would have purpose, a mission.
Raj, the tailor, was quick but precise. He had just finished what seemed like a wool blazer for a small boy and was preparing to adorn it with three front buttons. I waited my turn next to the sewing machine without making a sound. I watched Raj carefully place the first button on. If not for the cacophony of the machinery, the whole plant would have heard my pounding heartbeat.
Raj lifted the button beside me and gently secured it in the second position – about two inches below the top button. The anticipation was overwhelming. And then…out of nowhere…it hit me! I was going to be placed in position number three! After all my waiting, after all the dreams and hopes, I was suddenly designated for the useless, barren wasteland of bottom buttonhood.
In my excitement at finally being chosen, I had totally forgotten about “the curse.” The bottom button is just there for show. It is never closed, never used, and usually never noticed. It lays dormant for the lifespan of the garment and gets tossed away when the jacket dies. What kind of life is that?
I simply hung in place — useless. Raj ran the needle and thread through my broken heart and perfectly centered me to life imprisonment. Life had just begun and it was already over. I simply hung in place — useless. What choice did I have in the matter?
I endured several weeks of storage and transport and eventually made my way to a rack in a small boys’ shop in Baltimore. The customers were nice enough, The prospects for finding a warm and loving home seemed reasonable. I made peace with my “position” in life, but understood that true fulfillment would, sadly, be unattainable.
One day a mother and son arrived and asked to see a blazer that totally fit my description. The lady wore fancy jewelry and expensive shoes, and the boy walked with a kind of swagger that made him look older than he probably was. I began picturing a life that might be comfortable, even lavish, albeit unrealized. I said a silent prayer, hoping that they would make me part of their family. Mom surveyed the aisle and actually took me off the hanger.
“Try this one on, David,” she offered. My heart was pounding again. I liked the name David and I was desperate to find someplace I could call home. But alas, I was the wrong size. David must like burgers and pancakes. Even buttons one and two were in danger of popping. I, of course, was never even attempted. Sadly, I returned to my perch.
Later that afternoon I noticed another mother/son tandem enter the store. This woman looked rather plain. Her clothes were neat but haphazard,and I wasn’t sure what to make of her son. His features were different than most kids. His eyes were slightly slanted upward and his nose seemed small, almost flat. His ears were small too. But his smile was beautiful. He didn’t talk much, and when he did his words were sort of garbled.
Mr. Rabinowitz steered them in my direction. Again my hopes rose, but they were filled with conflict. I wasn’t sure if this was the harbor I had always dreamed of docking my ship at.
Mom was checking the price tags on the jackets in the corner, but the boy seemed to be staring right at me.
“Stay close to Mommy, sweetheart. You’ll get lost over there,” she beckoned.
But Sweetheart paid no heed. He lumbered his way right in front of my section and with a mind very much his own, clutched me and my jacket and clumsily dropped us to the floor.
“You’re making a mess,” Mom quietly said, taking him by the hand and drawing him close.
I felt bad for Sweetheart. He wasn’t trying to misbehave. He was just trying to be independent. Meanwhile I lay on the floor awaiting retrieval. Mr. Rabinowitz was nowhere in sight. I wondered how much time I’d have to stay on the cold floor, but not for long. Here was Sweetheart, breaking loose from his mother’s grasp and running towards me again. This time he successfully nestled the jacket in his soft hands and began to put his arms through the sleeves.
Having completed his mission, a huge grin appeared on his face. He looked absolutely adorable. With the pride of a foreign ambassador, Sweetheart marched himself over to a nearby mirror. Mom noticed him from across the way and with familiar resignation strode towards him. She closed buttons one and two and seemed to give the possibility some serious consideration. As usual, I simply waited.
It took a few seconds, but it really happened. He closed me. Me! Button number three – the useless one!She turned to find Mr. Rabinowitz and left us alone for just an instant. It was all he needed. Sweetheart took a confident gaze into the mirror and reached down to my neighborhood. I thought I would shriek from exhilaration. Sweetheart fumbled me in his sweaty palms. I thought he might yank me across the room. It took a few seconds, but it really happened. He closed me. Me! Button number three – the useless one!
Mr. Rabinowitz came over and tried to teach Sweetheart proper style and etiquette. He undid me once… twice… but Sweetheart was having none of it. Mom made a few attempts too, but my new friend had his mind made up. I would not be left out. Ever.
We made our way to the checkout counter, but Sweetheart and I would not part. He insisted on wearing the jacket home — buttoned: one, two, and three.
Sweetheart loved that jacket and wore it whenever he could. And when he outgrew it… he just wore it anyway — as long as he could.
Yes, Sweetheart loved that jacket.
And I loved Sweetheart.