The freedom to hoist one sail

hoist one sail

Smiles and denim chore coats

I am ever and still caught in the breeze of a smile I once saw. The smile of a certain young monk.

For new readers, we are Piedmont Pine Coffins. We help families do more affordable funerals, naturally. In our work and in our life, we take some inspiration from monks and monasteries down through the ages.

Though the photo at left is not the exact one I have in mind, the smiles there of Thomas Merton’s students are good stand-ins for the particular one I remember from a Trappist brochure: 1950s, a novice monk working in a kitchen or woodshop. It is cold and he is wearing a rough denim chore coat, possibly made in-house. His glasses are black and thick-rimmed. “Birth-control” glasses. His smile is fluorescent and says, “I am happy here doing what I am doing. Everything I need is here in this place and under this roof.”

Hoist one sail

Quitting all other headings, so to speak, that young monk from the luminous photo of my memory has decided to hoist one sail, this sail only, and it makes him happy. The one decision to rule all others. The ring of power that binds the rest.

hoist one sail

Pointer Brand, made in TN

No surprise, then, that for Piedmont Pine Coffins I took on a habit and made it denim. I wear it every day. A collared tan work shirt with our pine tree logo, plus, depending on the weather, denim overalls or shorts. Come winter I’ll be needing a denim chore coat.

I could complain. In the heat, the shorts bind over the knees. The shirts are poly blends and chafe more than cotton. The overalls, at events off the farm, give a limited look. It’s overalls for the library and overalls for weddings.

But there’s freedom, too, in being limited. The liberty of limitation. The relief of just having to follow the rule without always deciding on how to best self-present. For that I’m grateful.

You could say that Piedmont Pine Coffins is a devotional homage to that monk’s smile. I’m pulling together all the threads, weaving them to a canvas, and with it hoisting my sail. That it might pull me onward and upward like a kite!

Good people, what icon changed your life, and what sail would it have you hoist?


  1. Donald, I couldnt agree more, taking the “habit” changes things! The freedom to give oneself more simply when we strip away the extras is life giving!

    Mike, OSB a friend of Julie

    • Yes, Mike, and the step to contemplate (for me) is how to transform a business operation (selling coffins) principally into a service operation. To use it to “give oneself more simply.”

  2. Paul Cuadros says

    Yes, Don! I wear a standard look to my job at UNC teaching. Usually, it is the sweater vest with the UNC logo and I wear it over polo shirts, t-shirts and sometimes dress shirts. Don’t have to think too much about what I wear just on it goes. The same is true for coaching. I do believe in dressing appropriately for the appropriate occasions like weddings, funerals, graduation–regalia for me, etc.

    • Yes. I hear you about appropriate clothes for occasions. I’ll either have to stick to my guns with the current look, or not go. Contemplative monks use mostly the latter option, right?