I like shoes. Big, sturdy shoes; the kind that are perfect for kicking stones, cans, and footballs. If they lace up, you can just untie them when you want to hang out. And when you walk away, you leave a deep, solid imprint of a tread that may even have a smiley face in the middle.
I like dress shoes too. A shiny pair of five-inch, peep-toe pumps or a long, gold strappy sandal; you don’t own that kind of shoe…it owns you.
Shoes have their own story; the tale they tell through their purpose, their condition, and their sole. They speak softly and beseechingly, and if we listen, we learn about ourselves.
Two years ago, in Tanzania, Africa, I encountered people with no shoes. They walked across the hot, uneven streets and sidewalks, and the dirt paths that crossed through cornfields, avoiding road and trail hazards with deft skill. They navigated thick, slippery, red-mud roads, staying upright by virtue of their outstretched arms and years of practice. Not everyone avoids injury, I realized, as a bare-footed boy with a gaping cut on his foot limped by with his walking stick.
I started to notice everyone’s feet. The oversized flip-flops on children who were wearing hand-me-downs, the sandals cut from old car tire treads, and the used shoes for sale that sat on a blanket on the side of the road. Did the owners want to sell them, or need to sell them?
As I scraped the thick mud off my boots on the metal grate outside my room, I wondered how we could learn from people with no shoes. If we use shoes to illustrate the horrors of the Holocaust, and boots and crosses to mourn the military casualties of needless wars, how can we adequately honor and remember the people who endure extreme poverty? How can we be the voice of their soles so that their story is told?
I believe that shoes reflect our humanity.
Perhaps it all comes down to the Sudanese Proverb “If you are wearing shoes, you don’t feel the thorns.”