Many Hats

Sarah-Baxter-Octopus-HatBy Sarah Mae Baxter
Staff Support

Over the past few years I have accumulated a number of new UU hats to add to my colourful collection. Depending on the day and the situation, my role within any given UU circle will vary. On Sundays I take out my RE volunteer sunhat. Volunteering as a leader in the children’s program is how I engage with my local congregation. On Tuesdays and Fridays I don the jaunty pillbox of Fellowship staff, working as Office Administrator to keep a small, lay-led congregation organized and informed. And most mornings, when I check my e-mail, I am ready to drop my ace reporter fedora onto my head, signifying my role as CUC staff support, through which I’m called on to pick up those puzzle pieces that might get lost without a little help around the edges. I update webpages, post events, take notes during web conferences, and edit your stories to share with this national UU community through the eNews.

My volunteer and professional life – my entire resumé, really – is (almost embarrassingly) UU-centred, which is perhaps to be expected considering this lifelong identity I have curated from a child at Ferry Beach, to a youth at CanUUdle, to a young adult in love with a fellow raised-UU, and married by (both) our lay chaplain fathers.

This faith community is not something I can escape. It permeates my life to the extent that I forget we are small. I forget we are not well-known. I forget that strangers on the street may react with caution when I casually mention teaching sexuality education in Sunday School.

[Author’s note: This conversation actually happened, when a street fundraiser stopped me on my way home from a planning meeting for an OWL fundraising event. The Amnesty International fundraiser in question was so good at trying not to alienate me away from giving her money that it probably took me a good 5 minutes to realize she assumed I was brainwashing children with homophobia and abstinence-only propaganda. Turns out her partner’s mother may be involved in one of our BC congregations…. so maybe we aren’t that small after all.]

It can be wonderful to live so fully in a world you care deeply about. But juggling overlapping roles with intersecting interests, I have realized, may not be sustainable. With many hats comes the fear that I might get confused and show up at a wedding in a baseball cap, or a construction site in a beret. The effort needed to recognize which role you are meant to be playing – which adornment is appropriate for the occasion – can be challenging. It can be a distraction from simply living that value-driven life in supportive community.

So likely the day will come when I must simplify my wardrobe. I’ve done it before. There was a time when the hats I was offered were Christmas pageant bonnets and youth committee crowns. I have planned worships and special events, tracked down food and offered to drive. And I’ve handed in my hats, and stepped aside.

I have been burnt out, exhausted, drawn in too many directions, and I have withdrawn. And yet, here I am, back again. Saying yes when someone places a beautiful hatbox in my hands. I may get sick of them, or need a break in time, but I can’t turn in the comfy knitted tuque of family tradition, so one way or another, I’ll be back. That much I’ve figured out. There will always be another opportunity, a new chapeau to join my metaphor.

If I can condescend to extend to you a word of advice, here it is: Say yes when hats are comfortable or pretty. Pass them on when you wear them out. You may have a hard time convincing someone to don your sweat-stained hand-me-downs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want a nice new hat of their own.