I’m sure you noticed my hat. Go ahead and take a good look at it. Almost all people stare at my hat. I once first realized that a man was blind by noticing that he wasn’t staring at my hat. Children giggle and exclaim about my hat in too-loud-a-voice to their parents, who scold them but who also stare at my hat.
Don’t you want to ask me about it? You do. Most peoples’ questions are roundabout ways of trying to find out why I would ever put such a ridiculous object on my head. It’s probably the silliest thing you’ve ever seen. Mostly only children actually ask me what they really, deep-down want to know.
I got this hat from a complete stranger. He was waiting for me in a narrow alley. He was looking at me with the face of a beaming grandparent. I thought to myself, I’m not going to look at him, I’m going to ignore his pleas for whatever he wants. But then I see it — the hat. I’m staring at it and he wants to give it to me.
“You remind me of my grandson,” he says. “You’re just like him. He’s been dead and buried these twenty-two years. I’d always wanted to give this hat to my grandson, and now I want to give it to you. I was supposed to give my grandson this hat on the day he died. I know God brought you here to give me a second chance. God bless you, my son.”
I refused to take it. It was such a stupid hat. “Well then,” he said, “let me give you something in place of the hat. Please, sir. Let me give you a gift. It’ll represent the gift I wanted to give to my grandson.” I went along with it but it gave me the creeps, especially when he asked me to close my eyes and open my hands. “It’s a solemn occasion,” he said. When I opened my eyes I was holding the stupid hat. And I could hear the old man’s shoes clomping. He was actually running away. The old man ran fast.
The thing about it is, you can’t just throw this hat away. That would be a waste. It’s the sort of hat that you know an incredible amount of thought and care went into it, even though it was the wrong kind of thought and care. You can’t just leave it somewhere with a note, either, because that would be just like tossing it in the dumpster, which I did several times and then retrieved it. Of course no one would pick it up if I left it anywhere. Now the hat is my responsibility.
Not that I didn’t try to get rid of it. I asked everybody I saw to take it. I went to hat conventions. I visited hatter’s shops. I tried to find the hat’s maker, but the hatters would became angry if I even hinted at the idea that themselves or anyone else in their profession had made the hat. I tried to give it away as the prize of contests. I went to mental institutions. And I tried trickery.
Let me give you an example. I came upon a boy playing hopscotch. He was a young boy dressed up in his sunday school clothes. I come up to him. I’m holding the hat behind my back like this. “Now I want to give you a gift,” I say, “but in return I want you to give me a promise. Do you think you can do that?”
The little boy nodded solemnly.
“Promise me that you will always take care of this gift I am about to give to you. I want you to keep this gift in perfect condition. I want you to be able to pass this gift on to your children and your children’s children, just as I am about to pass it on to you. This is a big responsibility. Do you think you can do that?”
“Yes,” the boy said very seriously, and he looked wide-eyed in anticipation.
“Now close your eyes,” I said, “and hold out your hands. Are you keeping your eyes closed?”
The boy nodded.
“Here,” I said, bringing the hat out from behind my back, but the boy snatched away his hands.
“Yuck!” he yelled. Evidently he’d kept one of his eyes partly open.
“Here, take it, will you?” I said.
“No!” he said.
“But you promised,” I said. He showed me that his fingers were crossed. I tossed it to him but he refused to catch it and let it drop to the ground. He abandoned his hopscotch court and ran away to a safe distance. This incident was how the hat got a chalk stain right here, but I think I’ve cleaned it off completely now.
For a while, I pretended I was carrying the hat for someone else. I thought it wouldn’t look as silly to carry it as wear it. I said it wasn’t my own hat. But I don’t think it makes a difference, do you? Might as well not be ashamed of it. The shame part adds its own silliness. So now I always wear this hat on my head where everyone can see it, and I can now finally say that I’m proud of it. I alone accepted the responsibility for this hat. It is my own. I can even say this. If you were to ask me for this hat right now, I wouldn’t give it to you. I won’t give up this hat for anything.