I will tell you straight up that I don’t have a thing for shoes. But then I consider how my husband would react to that statement, and I remember that I have three times as many shoes as he does.
Everything is a matter of perspective, isn’t it?
Shoes are utilitarian items, certainly. So when I tell you that I am not materialistic and that I don’t have a thing for shoes, what I mean is that I don’t fit the stereotype of women who spend thousands of dollars on high-heeled Manolo Blahniks (I even had to google that brand, because I HAVE NO IDEA). I do have more shoes than my husband, but what happens between me and shoes is more about dashed expectations and a search for identity.
Maybe I do have a thing for shoes. It’s just different.
I purchase shoes two or three times a year, and when I do, I’m always looking for something far beyond appearance. Lately, qualifications for purchases are about support for my arches and comfort. The floor of my closet is littered with disappointment.
All that to say this: I’m not the kind of woman who falls in love with high-heeled, glamorous shoes and spends lots of money filling my closet with aforementioned fancy shoes. I have tennis shoes and flats and boots and only one or two pairs with anything that resembles a heel.
You may wonder where I’m going with this; let me make an effort to unpack something that happened earlier this week, a moment that has caused The Great Shoe Contemplation of 2016.
We were off celebrating our anniversary, my beloved husband and I. We did dinner and a night out, an overnight in the place where we married and spent our first night together. We headed northwest, in our annual pilgrimage to Ohio to ring in the new year with his side of the family.
And this year, we took our time, stopping to shop along the way, filling our bags with Christmas gifts we had waited to purchase until we were on our way to the recipients. We were at an outlet in Hagerstown when we saw a Clarks shoe store.
I love Clarks, I said. I have a pair. They’re comfortable. And your mom loves Clarks.
As we opened the door, I thought to myself This is ridiculous; I don’t need shoes. Because truly, I don’t; I’d purchased two pair in October and Tony bought me a pair of Adidas for my birthday in May. I don’t need more shoes.
But we ventured inside anyway. And then it happened.
(Cue dramatic music, the kind you hear when the boy sees the girl for the first time and knows that his destiny has arrived, that he will love her forever, that his future is sealed…)
I saw these shoes, and that music played somewhere deep in my soul, and I recognized my destiny.
And I can’t believe I wrote those words about a pair of shoes, but I’m being honest. It’s ridiculous, but it’s the truth.
Something about the asymmetrical stitching and the worn leather and the thick laces and the downright, almost-ugly appeal of these simple shoes spoke to me. I picked them up and felt some long-ago stirring of the me that was 12 years old, coming of age in rural Pennsylvania, resonating with Carole King and Godspell and the 100 acres of wooded wonderland behind our house. These shoes looked like someone I’d lost, someone trailing far behind this life I lead at 53, juggling kids and career and family and obligations and health and the ever-present desire to matter.
I can’t tell you more than that; I don’t know. It’s simultaneously the dumbest thing ever and the power of a symbol, an icon, a well-crafted, utilitarian tool. It’s an invitation – almost a demand – to move back into the comfort of my skin, away from invisible pressure to shop at Loft and buy a well-made fitted blazer with some sensible heels. To slip again into flannel shirts and 501s, to put away the flat iron and stop trying on personas that I think might match my calling.
I’m at this interesting turning point, a slowing of sorts; a recalibration. Something is changing in me – I feel it, grinding surely and steadily. (And I’m wearing flannel shirts a good bit these days.) The fear and exhaustion is ebbing away and so my motion is settled; I am expectant, open. Not fearful or fear-filled. So perhaps this leather called to me so strongly because I’m leaning back into what I dreamed and dared in my adolescent soul.
I don’t know for sure; I only know that if I walked away from that store without those shoes, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. Again – that sounds like the dumbest thing ever; but it’s the truth. So I stood, looking at those shoes and tallying up the amount of money we’d spent in the past 48 hours, considering the gifts I’d just received at Christmas and the fact that I didn’t need another pair of shoes.
I picked up the right shoe; I slipped out of my boot and wriggled my foot into the clutch of the leather, wondering if this would be a size 7 that would be too small.
It was not too small; it fit, perfectly. I slipped out of the other boot and had both shoes on in no time flat, and a smile slid across my face. My adolescent self was affirmed as I looked at my feet and saw something that felt right.
I scooted down three aisles and found my husband.
Look, I said, Look at these shoes.
I was beaming and so he knew enough to look back at me without judgement. You like those? he said.
Yes. Yes. I know…you might think they are ugly. But I don’t know; there’s something about them…
He smiled. Okay. You want to get them?
My face fell and I said, I don’t need another pair of shoes.
Well, how much are they?
Like, $70 or something. Too much.
The next thing I knew, he said, There’s a sale – buy one, get one half off…and I like these… He held up a pair of shoes that I wasn’t really sure he liked because they looked like nothing he’d ever bought before, but he said, You have to get those, because if you don’t, I’ll have to pay full price for these.
He waved his shoes around, and that’s what love looks like, I thought – not for the first time – and so we took our boxes to the counter and told the guy we were celebrating our anniversary with shoes and he said, You’re a great couple and I asked for any deals he might have and he said Sorry, only the BOGO, but that’s a great shoe you’ve chosen there, and you ought to see the ones I put on hold for myself in the back, and the the next thing we know he’s scooted back to the store room to show us a pair of orange Wallabees and we ooo and ahhh over those and he rings us up and says, I gave you a discount, and we paid less for two pair of shoes than the cost of one pair because he was feeling generous or the universe wanted me to have those shoes.
My eyes filled with tears right there at the register.
And now I have these leather simple brown shoes, and I’ve worn them every day since. I got dressed this morning and said, Baby – you know what? I GET TO WEAR MY SHOES AGAIN TODAY!!!
And I am filled with joy, inexplicable joy, and I really don’t get it. Shouldn’t I have some shame, being so filled with happiness because of a pair of shoes? Isn’t that materialistic and ridiculous and markedly unspiritual?
But I am being gentle with myself, and recognizing that there are layers and layers underneath all emotions, and my primal, instinctual reaction to a pair of shoes is probably – strike that, definitely – about more than I realize at the moment. So I am simply going to go with it.
I’m going to relax and lean into these words from the prophet Jeremiah that are guiding me into the coming year.
Something good is going on here; I feel it.
And I really like my shoes.