Up until yesterday, the person who came up with the statement “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” was on my “If we cross paths, I am entitled to punch you in the face” list.
Truth. He or she was right up there, wedged between the individual responsible for spelling “love” with a U and the genius who began the “Wuts up? Nm, U? Nm. Cool” phenomenon. So, if you see any of these culprits lurking around the café or the aquarium, or wherever you lurk, punch them in the face and tell them that Jane Austen and Shakespeare sent you.
I’ve always thought it was a horrid, stuffy statement. Walking a mile in the shoes of someone else. Wah, wah, wah! They are too tight. They don’t fit. The heels are too high. And they are clunky, clunky, clunky. I can barely stand and you would expect me to learn how to walk?
I’ve been a long time chewer and spitter upper of “shoey” statements until these love letter requests began rattling my world. They keep pouring into my inbox and half the time I just want to write across a page: What keeps you walking? How the heck do you even wake up and decide to walk?
Shove it in an envelope. Drop it in the mail.
It’s like we are keeping this big secret that if released into the night would be the key to telling another that we’ve been there before. That we’ve known those same shoes, splayed with mud. That we’ve worn the same rain boots, the same sneakers, to bite back the pain. And how did it get so lost? How did it become something we only talk about under the lights of glassy conference hall, before a speaker with a booming voice and 8,000 individuals who are shimmying into the skins of vulnerability like a wet suit.
I’m believing lately that it is easier to tell an Ugly Story, to guide another into a Safe Place of Sameness, by first sinking back into those shoes that fit our feet at the time. The converse sneakers we slid into on the night where we gathered courage by the armful, like hot whites falling from the drier, and found a way to tell him it was over. The snow boots we wore on the day a police car pulled up and forever rearranged the way we would take family photos. No mother? No brother?
It’s remarkably easier to tell you about the pair of black heels, with the now frayed bows, that I wore while falling in love for the very first time. How they fit my feet. The blisters that later kissed my heels when all I could say in the mirror was, He Kissed Me. How that night was jutted with stars and I thought someone might say it to me, “You know, you are beautiful”. And even if they didn’t, I’d still know it was glowing off my skin. How I got caught in the rain in those heels once. And I didn’t mind. The mud & water were good for them in the same way that falling into love was good for a girl made up of 80% climbing.
It’s simpler to tell you that I wore a pair of combat boots most days when I lived in the Bronx because they made me feel braver. Black boots from the Gap, I’ll tell you how I zipped them straight up before I ever tell you how I lived a scared kind of life. A life that left me wondering, as I waited for the walking man to light up on the other side of the road, “Am I Really A Child Of God? Or Has He Forgotten Me In All This Mess?”
I’m starting to believe that it really has nothing to do with walking a mile in the shoes of another. Maybe it would be just enough to acknowledge the walking. To commend, even if we cannot understand, the fact that we all got up today and decided to push forward. That some of us are wearing cowboy boots and contemplating if the world would care if we were gone tomorrow. That others are lacing up baseball cleats and rounding a set of bases for a best friend of ours that is hooked up to IVs in a hospital room.
What good would it be to walk a mile in your shoes? The world needs me to walk in my own. Just tell me that you are walking. Tell me when you get all stuck. Tell me when you need to sit. I get it, I get it, today might just be a day for walking a few steps instead of Fully, Really Away this time.
Let’s just start with a Single Story instead of miles in shoes that never fit us before. Stories about walking. And the shoes we wear to face the day.