I used to be in the fashion business.    My job was to find the things that people would buy before they knew they wanted to buy them.    That’s what being a merchant is.

People often ask me, “How do you know that you’re a merchant?” and I am always stumped by the question.    I don’t know how to answer them except to say,  “I just am.”    It comes to me – at odd times during the day when I’m doing something else, when I’m meditating, often when I’m least looking for it, sometimes in the dark of night and I awaken to scribble something on a pad by my bed.

It always seems like an accident and it never is.   It’s just who I am.   I am eternally inspired – some people call it their “genius”.   Some think it comes and it goes — I believe  it’s what’s there when you take all my “stuff” away.   It’s wrapped up with the love, the truth, the beauty, the goodness, the Divine — that is in all of us.

My best merchant moments are when I don’t intend it.   I just let that inner spark tell me what to do and I go with it – and then – I’m always so surprised when people love it.   In fact, sometimes, I seem a little weird to people.    That’s when I REALLY know it’s right.    Maybe not right now – but, it will be in a year or so.

I have a story that illustrates this phenomenon – for me.  Perhaps you’ll recognize it in yourself.

I used to travel to Italy three or four times a year to buy the sweaters for my division at Bloomingdale’s.  Anyone who knows me knows I love Italy and all things Italian.  My plane lands in that country and my ancestral fires start to burn and my heart flames up in love and beauty and passion – and, well, there’s just no stopping me!

After working for a week, seeing lines and creating styles for my sweater programs, I walked into a showroom one day.  As I lay my coat on a chair, I looked down to see someone’s open bag.

It was love at first sight.  This bag was a tawny and black leopard print PLASTIC bag, like the kind of stuff that cheap cosmetic bags are made of – except it was Italian – and, nothing that Italians make looks cheap.  It was about 14 inches long and 10 inches deep, with two little carry handles at the top – not my usual favorite, since I prefer shoulder bags for the kind of carrying around everyday of lots of useless stuff, which  is what I do and what I have always done.  Even better, it had four deep outside pockets, two on each side.    Oh, goody!  More places to stick things!

I turned to my sales rep and just gushed, “Ooooh, I love this!  Where did you get it?”

(Side note:  People in the fashion business have no qualms about asking you where you bought something, what designer made it, and we even go as far as to touch your clothing all the time to “feel the fabric”.  Fortunately, I have harnessed this habit… a bit.  However, if I reach out to rub your sleeve, do not think I am hitting on you – it’s simply my primal need to figure out what the yarn is and where it came from…).

She laughed and said, “You like it?”   Oh, yes, I did.  She leaned over to whisper, “I bought it at the cosmetics store on the corner.  It’s just a make-up bag.”  I laughed with her and shook my head in amazement!  So much for Gucci and Louis Vuitton!

After the appointment, I dragged my assistant and my translator to the corner, and, sure enough, there it was in the window, full of lotions and potions and blush and brushes, with a paisley scarf tied through one of the short handles.

Truly, only in Italy can they pull off paisley with leopard print… Don’t try this at home.

I walked in the tiny, crowded shop, pointed to the bag, and the saleslady climbed on a ladder and took down a fresh one in a clear plastic bag from a high shelf.  “Quanto e?”, I said in my almost native, but limited Italian.  She told me.  $25 worth of Italian lire.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune!  A bag that I loved without a designer price – big enough to hold everything and everything again.

I have always loved leopard print – everyone makes fun of me for it.  My Blackberry cover today is hard plastic leopard print, half my closet is leopard print; I have leopard print sweaters, a leopard print raincoat, leopard print shoes – you get the picture.

However, being a merchant doesn’t mean buying what I would wear, it means buying what other people would wear.  For me, those are usually two different things.  This time, though, there was a powerful trend emerging – and this is how I knew….

I dolled that bag up with my own little black and gold scarf – wisely knowing the limits of my Italian heritage and not attempting the paisley – and took it out and about into the world.

And, that’s when I got it.

Everywhere I went, people asked me where I had found my bag?  Where could they get it?   Whose was it?   What designer had designed it?  I always laughed inside at this – if only they knew.

It didn’t end there.  My next stop was Paris for the fashion shows and EVERYONE who is ANYONE in the fashion business was in Paris for the shows.  And, EVERYONE asked me where I got my bag!  I was stopped in the street and photographed – the photographer, on two occasions, asked me to hold the bag up for a closer shot.

Even better, every other buyer, merchandise manager, and fashion office person asked me about my bag.    Now, I started to play coy – I would smile sweetly, half-close my eyes, flutter my false eyelashes, and say, “Isn’t it DIVINE?”

When I got back to the states, it escalated to fever pitch, culminating with my being photographed on Fifth Avenue by New York Times Styles photographer, Bill Cunningham.  Then, I was in the Federated Department Stores offices one day and my friend, MaryJane, who was VP of Accessories for all Federated stores, came out to say “Hi”.   She saw my bag and asked if she could photograph it.  “Sure,” I said.  I was very blase about it by this time.  I knew what I had.

Finally, a peer of mine at Bloomingdale’s,  Doris, who was in charge of the accessories division, came to me one day, wanting to photograph the bag.  I could no longer hold it in – I worked for this store, for Goodness sake!  I said, “Doris, don’t knock it off – it will be too expensive.  It’s just a make-up bag I bought in a cosmetics store in Florence.  Call the manufacturer and buy it from them directly!”  With that, I opened the bag and we found the little, obscure label on the inside pocket.  She copied it down and that was the beginning.

Months later, I came through the front doors of Bloomingdale’s from Lexington Avenue, into what is known as “The Arcade” – and there they were!   All over the better handbag department!  There was my version in leopard, and then white and black zebra stripes, and a cocoa and black tiger stripe version.  They were $125 for each one.

They sold out in only a few days.

Meanwhile, in my own division, I had created leopard prints and tiger prints, and cheetah prints, and zebra stripes in everything that you could put those prints on:  skirts, blouses, dresses, stamped on tee-shirts, on printed angora sweaters – all a hit, all “hot”…

All sold out.

A few months later, someone I worked with told me that they overheard the CEO of Bloomingdale’s say, as I walked by, “I just don’t understand why she can’t carry a Chanel bag like everyone else.”  The person responded by saying, “Do you know that she found those bags and we’re now selling them down in the Arcade for $125?  And, they’re selling out?”

In all of this, I can only tell you that it never occurred for me as something I reached for, something I looked for, something that was odd or different.   It felt like the right thing at the right time.   I always find it to be the most powerful when I’m more than slightly surprised that everyone else thinks it’s great  — and I am just doing what I do, effortlessly.   I feel like an innocent who has stumbled onto a treasure — full of joy and delight!

Everyone has this, you know.  It’s your gift.  Find out what that is and do it.  And it will be joyful and beautiful forever.

Deliciously yours in the “Fabulous-ness” of it All,   Linda

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you just like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”  e. e. cummings

Here is the famous leopard bag, which traveled with me all over the world — Here seen in The Forbidden City in Beijing, China in 1987.  That’s me, on the left, holding on to it, proud and tight, with two of the buyers in my division, Paul Price (now at Burberry in London) and Roberta Troilo.

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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I always think of myself as generous and giving AND — guess what? I have found that my generosity is often tempered by what I think I can “get away with” and still look good, while protecting myself every step of the way. Last week, I got to see what true generosity can — and does — provide… an experience of Grace and Love…

Early in the week, I received an email from a friend – let’s call her Maddy — not someone so close to me, but more than an acquaintance – someone who is in the spiritual and transformational conversation with me, but not someone I regularly call or email. She was reaching out to her transformation “community” in order to find support around creating an opportunity for a plane ticket to a course in San Francisco that we are both taking together – in fact, we were heading there for the weekend last week. She found herself without a plane ticket to go – and, unless she was able to generate that ticket one way or another, it was now too late to get an inexpensive ticket – and she would not be able to come.

I read the email and my first instinct was to delete the message. “Not my responsibility….,” I thought.

Something stopped me.

What hit me is that I have often been in that very same situation – waiting until the last minute or thinking that money that I expected to come through would actually come in on time – only to have everything fall through and there I am left with no resources, no recourse – and feeling bereft and alone. As I looked at the email, I was inspired by how courageous she was to step out into the unknown and ask for help.

Yet, here I was, in not much better circumstances myself. Oh, I was going for the weekend, but it hadn’t been easy to pull that together. I had a reservoir of frequent flyer miles from which I had pulled in order to create my own ticket – and had not much more in the “kitty” from which to draw. I was saving what remained for my own ticket to the last weekend of the course in May.

That was two months away.

I called Maddy and offered to “create” a miracle with her. I told her that I had miles that I could give her in return for her working with me to generate my own plane ticket for May. We talked about it for a while, and she reluctantly declined. She didn’t want to put me — or herself, for that matter — in an uncomfortable situation in which she would feel obligated to “pay me back” for the free miles given to her now. We agreed to “stand together” in the space that anything could happen and that a miracle would arrive for her.  I hung up the phone.

I think of myself as someone who steps out on the power of the Word every day of my life – “God provides” is not simply an aphorism to me.   I put my faith and trust in God and He treats me like a “lily of the field” – I have never known Him to fail me.   So, you can imagine….. Miracles happen often in my life….

I couldn’t shake the feeling all day that I had something to give and if I really believed in my faith and trust in God, I could give what I had and really “put my money where my mouth is” and create my own miracle for the trip in May.

I called her back – and this time, I freely offered the miles. Believe me, my ego – that part of me that thinks there isn’t enough for everyone – was screaming inside me, “How could you do this? What will you do when you need to go in May?”

My ego was no match for what was there in the space for both of us: creating and loving and Being…

What was there was an amazing Presence – a sense that this was greater than either one of us. Maddy told me that a miracle had already happened – she had half the flight already and only needed the one-way ticket back… As we made plans for how we would work that out the next day, we both let our walls down to each other and allowed for that there would be a way to have this work. We surrendered to the love in the space and said, “This shall be.”

I went back and forth all night between ego – wanting to keep everything for myself – and Self, knowing that by being willing to surrender to whatever it was that was there for me to do would give me riches beyond what frequent flyer miles could provide.

“A Course in Miracles” speaks of giving this way: “To give and to receive are one in truth,” (Lesson 108). The fact is I would have felt that something was missing if Maddy could not be there – I was being generous for myself as well as for her — “All that I give is given to myself.”  The next morning, Maddy called to say that she had both ways on the ticket and that she didn’t need my miles after all – but – and this is a big “but” – we both knew that those tickets showed up in the clearing that we were being for her to come.

We are all powerful beyond anything we can imagine AND we do not walk this way alone. There is One Who is with us always… and it is easier to experience that when we stand together in love…

And…. Love is the thought that God is…

Deliciously yours in the Miracle of it all,  Linda

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  Matthew 18:20

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and “Spritiual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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