I’m packing my mantel tonight, to prepare for the flight to ICBB/ILSb in San Francisco where I will hand it to one unsuspecting bootblack Saturday night. Anyone who’s worn it can attest that it is a frightfully heavy thing. It’s beautifully crafted and bears the weight of significance, but it’s also physically…a lot of dead cow to carry on your shoulders. I will admit that it’s not quite as heavy as the huge sashes the rest of my title family, the International Leather Sir and Leather boy wear, but it’s heft has accompanied on my travels this year, a constant physical reminder of the weight of the title I have borne since last July.
When Sir Evan, ICBB 2009, first laid the mantel around my shoulders last year, it didn’t seem that heavy. It seemed a comfortable weight, like a hug from the Leathermen and women who stood smiling around me. It was only as the months wore on that I began to appreciate the weight that it, and an International Leather title inherently have. They are not light things to carry with you, but a responsibility. It was one that I was proud at times to carry and at others humbled. It was one that taught me lessons I never could have learned any other way. It was a weight that challenged me to grow stronger so that I could carry it the distance. As the months grew on, I became more and more aware of the weight, feeling it more and more as my own endurance wore down, but at the same time, I was grateful that I had been chosen to carry it. Each time I carefully folded it into my toolbox to carry on the plane, I touched the leather with a lingering caress, remembering those who had judged me worthy of carrying it and hoping that they still felt the same. Each time I had to take it out for TSA to inspect, I did so without blushing and with my chin held defiantly high, glad to be able to show them a Leatherwoman unashamed to carry a symbol of her people, her tribe.
That mantle gave me special powers. It gave me the power to kiss my Master goodbye yet another time and leave my home, barely having unpacked from the last trip. It gave me energy when I thought I had none left. It gave me inspiration when I felt like my spirit had been crushed, when there just weren’t enough tears for the pain. It gave me the determination to see things through and to travel more than I ever have in a year and it gave me the courage to step up onto countless stages and to look countless Leathermen in the eye…and try to give to them some of the magic that had been given to me, some of that inspiration and determination. That mantle has been my magic feather for the last year and now it is time to see if I can fly alone.
I pack my mantle for the last time, but I have to honestly say that I do not regret giving it up. It’s time. I have done all that I can do as ICBB and it is time for someone else, someone new to shape this title and to put their mark on it. I look forward to seeing all the wonders they will accomplish wearing this mantle. I hope that it brings them the strength they need when they feel weak and that they feel the weight of it compelling them to be their best just as I did. Most of all, though, I hope it takes them to as many wonderful adventures as it did me. For me, my path leads onward in it’s own direction, mostly back to my Master. Just as I was never meant to keep the mantle, it was on loan to me, the mantle was never meant to keep me or define me as a person, a bootblack, a slave, or a Leatherperson. I was on loan to it as well and it is time for me to be returned back to my rightful owner and to resume my place at his feet.
I am grateful for the chance to reach out to bootblacks across the country and to show people my passion for bootblacking. I don’t see myself being able to stay away from the bootblack stands for long, even though I likey will take a short break to resupply my poor kit! However, from now on, I’m happy to encourage others to stand out and I’m very much looking forward to fading into the background a bit. We have a wonderful ICBB 2011 class and I’m certain that whomever is chosen to wear this mantle will wear it proudly and will use it in their own way to benefit their fellow bootblacks and to promote this artform we all love.
As for me…I’ll have more room in my return suitcase…and I’m sure San Francisco will help me fill that up. 😉