I briefly glimpsed at her tattered shoes, struggling with the inclination I felt to stare. They squeaked as her feet moved along the sidewalk and I cringed, still trailing closely behind the inhibited girl from my English class. I am embarrassed to say that at the time I didn’t even know her name. Why bother with such details when she couldn’t even recognize a need for new shoes? One afternoon I noticed the girl humbly wearing the Coach coat I’d been dying for, in coordination with the same dilapidated shoes I’d grown to despise. She must’ve felt my eyes glued to her as she stopped suddenly in her tracks and turned to me. Embarrassed, I quickly looked away and racked my brain for the words to say. After an eon of pent-up bitterness emerged from our silence, she smiled and took steps back to walk beside me. The next few steps we took simultaneously were awkwardly hushed. Breaking not only the silence, but the perspective I’d held on life up until that very point, Megan, in a very serene tone, said, “you can tell a lot about a person by the shoes on their feet ya know.” Unable to even gather my thoughts I walked beside this girl that to me was such a mystery and said absolutely nothing.
A series of events following that late September walk home from school would untie the shoelaces of Megan’s shabby sneaker’s and divulge the beauty of her walk through life. Megan was diagnosed with lung cancer in the 9th grade. Her father was a chronic smoker and while her oncologist never actually said, it was evident that she was likely reaping the consequences of her father’s addiction. Her once white tennis shoes were yellowed from the constant exposure to cigarettes. Gaining bitter incentive from the discolored shoes, Megan found her release in the sound of the smoke-stained shoes hitting the pavement in fury as she momentarily ran far away from the stress of her life. After months of successful chemotherapy, Megan was approximated to have 5 years of survival ahead of her. Cherishing life, she continued to run in the same sordid tennis shoes as always, but now dragging her dad and his new Nike’s along as well.
Megan is now on her third year of remission. Her dad now drives 2 hours nightly to meet Megan at 9 pm on campus to run. His brand new Nike’s that Megan bought for him to obtain a running partner represent more than just comfort. They represent a new, clean slate and a second chance at a smoke-free life.
Megan taught me the importance of the shoes on my feet and how they carry us through our existence. Shoes are like the comfort zone we can’t seem to step out of in trying times. We avoid the small blisters that come with breaking in new sandals and move through life wearing the holes in the soles of our shoes because we’re afraid. We have anxieties about change and moving forward, but the truth is if we dwell on the past and settle for good, we might miss out on something great.
The laces are an integral part of shoes. They are the strings that hold each of our lives together. The vibrant colors are our friends that make us smile and the plain colors signify our family that is often boring but still important none-the-less. They both provide the support system that ties us together fabricating the human beings we aspire to become.
Unique is the way we tie our shoes and how my bow will never look the same as another’s. My bow will have longer “bunny ears” or my bow will be double knotted while another’s is single. Perhaps I’ll make two loops and then tie, while someone loops, ties, and loops again. We are all inevitably different.
The foundation of a shoe is the part that is hidden from the world. It is the sole that rests beneath the foot of the shy quiet girl that once walked in front of me daily. It appears to be rugged on the outside but if it is given the opportunity, it will prove to be more. It has walked through a life not yet visible to the world and has a story to tell. It is waiting for the close-minded girl to untie it and look beneath the surface in effort to discover the uncovered meaning. The sole of shoes remain the deepest, most personal part of people, the soul of our existence.