Flora lived in the city of Chicago. The wind blew off the shores of Lake Michigan and whistled right through her winter clothing and into her bones. One day while out and about, she and her husband, Jim, stopped in a small fur shop on Michigan Avenue. She slipped on a white mink and instantly felt the warmth from the fur on this cold day. The silky coat wrapped itself around her in a caress. She thought of the minks that gave their lives for this coat. Their hide was so well suited for this cold Chicago weather. She was grateful. She fell in love with the whiteness of the fur and her long raven black hair looked stunning against the fur. The satin lining softened her skin. She knew she could never afford the sticker price so placed the fur back on the rack.

Her husband Jim noticed how the coat made Flora’s beauty shine and he saw the look of longing in her eyes. He made a mental note. They walked out of the fur boutique and continued strolling down Michigan Avenue but it was windy and freezing that afternoon so they soon headed back to their small apartment for some hot chai tea.

Three years later, on Flora’s 40th birthday, Jim gave her a box. Since she had asked for a new ipad, she couldn’t imagine what was inside the large box. Maybe it was a trick and the tiny thing would be nested inside the large box. When she opened the present, she gasped. Tears filled her eyes because she knew the white mink wasn’t something they really could afford. She grabbed a chunk of fur and rubbed it against her cheeks. As she lifted the coat from the box, the sunshine caught the fur and it glistened and sparkled with varying shades of white. She put the coat on and it fit her perfectly. She gave Jim a big kiss and enveloped him in fur as she hugged her thank you’s.

“Please lets go out for a walk,” she asked Jim. It was a bitter cold night but she wanted to experience the fur shielding her from the cold. So they set out to find the walking path next to the lake. The temperature had dropped and a stiff wind blew crashing waves onto the shore. Flora snuggled the coat around her body and stayed as warm as a muffin in the oven. Jim put his arm around her and she could smell his aftershave. He loved the feel of her shoulders warm and snug under the coat. And Flora loved the weight of Jim’s arm pressing the satin against her skin.

Jim and Flora had many walks together. She loved that coat. She looked and felt gorgeous. It was the best present ever. Sadly, her walks with Jim would end, two months later. Jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died shortly after. Flora’s life drastically changed. She couldn’t bear to get herself out of bed. For several months she stayed in her apartment like a prisoner. She wondered how Jim could have ever afforded to buy her that mink. She looked in his checkbook register and saw that he had made payments every month for three long years. The first payment was the week after they had visited the store. Realizing the sacrifice and dedication Jim had for her, she cried fat wet tears into her pillow. Meanwhile, her white mink sat in the closet gathering dust. She ordered her groceries online and thought life would never be joyful again. It was a debilitating time. Some days she never got out of bed.

Finally, several months after Jim had died, while lying in bed, Flora noticed a stream of sunlight that cast a shadow on the wood floor, a sparkle caught the rocks that lined the pot of her needle point ivy. It reminded her of how the sun sparkled on her mink coat the day Jim gave it to her and somehow she decided she would get out of bed. She got herself up, curled her hair, and put on lipstick. She took her fur coat from the closet and put it on. Her black hair flowed in swirls on the white mink. She walked out the door. Oh how good it was to get out! It was still cold, spring was a ways off yet. She wrapped the coat around her and the feel of it brought back the memory of the walks she had with Jim. She could even smell the faint aroma of his after shave. It was like he was hugging her when she wore the coat. The fur glistened in the sunlight and sparkles of light reflected making the coat look like it was dressed in white Christmas lights. The satin lining on her skin felt marvelous. Again, she thought about the minks that had sacrificed their lives for the coat and she gave thanks to them for their offering even if they had no choice in the matter. Their fur brought joy and comfort that would last her a lifetime and perhaps many other lifetimes for whoever would wear this coat of beauty. If the fur had stayed on the minks, it would have decayed and dried up in their graves. Now it was everlasting.

Flora crossed the street to get to the walkway along Lake Michigan, just as she had done so many times with Jim. The breeze coming off the lake smelled humid and alive. It was the first time she felt joy since Jim died. Flora smiled and wrapped her arms around herself to snuggle up into the coat.

A group of young people noticed Flora and yelled from across the street, “Animal killer! Don’t you know how many animals were killed so you could wear that coat! Get a life!”

Flora was shocked at their words. She could have been angry at the injustice. Didn’t they know that the coat brought her joy and she felt like she was once again in her dead husband’s arms? Didn’t they know how she appreciated the lives of the mink that gave her this thing of beauty? Of course, not. They did not know it was a sacred gift from her Jim. So she breathed in their nasty words and then blew them out- like dandelion fuzz on a windy day. She walked on with her head high and was not hurt by their opinions. She knew in her heart that the love of the coat and the beauty that it portrayed was stronger and more real than the meanness that came from their mouths. She walked on to the pathway along the lake, comforted in feeling the presence of her dear husband Jim wrapped within the coat. Flora thought, “Oh it is so good to be alive and out and about once again!” The lake was blue grey and whitecaps were coming to shore. Alive again! Flora was thankful.

Moral of the story: From the outside looking in, it is easy to judge what would be a better belief or action for another. But until you have walked in their shoes, you can not know what is best. Let each of us respect the beliefs of others. We must each walk in our own truth. Don’t expect someone to freeze in the cold or live their life in grief. Allow each one the comforts that bring them joy.