Wednesday, May 9, 2012

In Other Shoes

I visited my nieces recently, well, my sister and her older kids too, but her little daughters really stole the show.  About half an hour after my sons and I arrived, my two-year-old niece--I'll call her Pretty for now since she's always scavenging for pretty things to wear--came shuffling into the kitchen with my oldest son's coat over her head.

"WAAAAAHHH!!" screamed my little son, who is remarkably protective of his brother's stuff.  "That's my brother's!!!  You can't take it!!!!!  WAAAAAAHHHH!"

He wrested the coat from Pretty's head, balled it up under his arm, and headed back toward the playroom muttering, "It doesn't even fit you."

Pretty scrunched up her eyes in growing fury under a fringe of now electrified dandelion-puff-like hair.  Planting her hands on her hips, she shuffled after him in a temper.  And it was only when I noticed the shuffling, not storming, that I realized her strange gait was dictated by the fact that Pretty was trying to keep my sandals on her feet as she attempted to snag back the coat from her cousin.

Apparently my shoes made Pretty's cut.

Shoes have always held deep fascination for me.  They hardly ever fit quite right, and I can lose shoes with the best of them.  My mother loves to tell the story of how I headed home from school one day with two white tennis shoes and arrived with only one, claiming not to have realized that I lost it.

"How?  HOW could you not know you were only wearing one shoe?" She still wants to know.

I've completely forgotten the incident; nevertheless, I suspect that the real story must have been more embarassing (or more likely to produce punishment) than the claim of ignorance.

Still, another pair of shoes can bring about a profound change in perspective.  While I may have occasionally thought that church services were too long when I graduated children's church to the adult services, they had never been painful before I started wearing heels.  I remember slipping my white open-toed spring shoes with their tiny one-and-a-half-inch heels and massaging my poor little feet through their sweaty hose that I was forbidden to run lest lose the privilege of wearing them *FOREVER.*  (When I actually did run them eighteen months later, I was astonished that Mom bought me another pair. Evidently there is a time limit on *FOREVER.*) 

Tennis shoes made me feel clumsy, ballet slippers delicate.  I noticed a profound difference in the respect I received giving science presentations in heels instead of flats in high school.  I started wearing heels as much as possible at 16-1/2 and essentially didn't take them off until I got dizzy when I was pregnant with my oldest son at twenty-seven.

Before I dropped my education major in college (my attempt to graduate before I went completely crazy or life killed me), I spent time in the classroom of a teacher who claimed that it wasn't the kind of shoe you wore that made you comfortable.  The key to preventing aching feet was to switch shoes throughout the day.  Another pair of shoes would pinch different places and allow the previously pinched areas to rest.  She was a wise woman.

The thing about shoes, particularly when you are as short as I am, is that what you see in a different pair is very different.  When I'm in my heeled oxfords--lady lawyer shoes to my mind--I not only command respect from others, I carry an air of greater solemnity myself.  Not that I can't summon one up in my sweats and bare feet, but I don't have to drop the bucket as deep.  Similarly, I am more likely to to laugh at myself in bare feet than I am in heels--maybe because my feet are happier.  I am likely not to be afraid of the mud in tennis shoes, to run a little harder and a little more.  I am likely to linger in sandles, to walk slowly and enjoy the breezes and sunshine.

Wearing the shoes rounds me out.  It gives me incentive to stretch myself--sometimes in ways I didn't know I could stretch.  But more importantly, though, it connects me to others.  By the way I treat them, I am able to show those in tennis shoes that I can imagine them in heels too.  And I am able to show those in heels that my tennis shoes do not interfere with my brain.  By remembering who I am in other shoes, I am able to forgive those wearing shoes of my other selves and facing the problems those shoes pinch us with. 

I started to understand the wisdom of St. Francis when he said:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace...

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

When I wore the shoes myself, I wasn't nicer to myself.  I didn't give myself a break.  No, I tended to curse myself for not being able to look awesome and be able to walk five miles too.  Or, conversely, I was frustrated that my feet felt great, but my pink-soled grey Nikes didn't look so dainty with my summer sun dress.

But I did look at others differently, and, eventually, I started to see myself differently.  And I guess it is true.  The first step to forgiving yourself is forgiving others.

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