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Walking in another's shoes

It's rare that you actually live out a metaphor, but that's what happened to me not yesterday, but last week at the jail. (I have stories stored up to tell you, LJ... I'm going to reach even further back for the next one)

One of the many many rules, when you're volunteering, is that you can't wear sandals or open-toed shoes. I don't know why. It's just a rule. My footgear in summer is rubber flip-flops, so I have to be very careful on Fridays that I remember to put on proper shoes. One time last year I forgot, and they ended up calling up the chain of command and getting a special dispensation for me to go in in flip-flops. My flip-flopped feet felt very self-conscious that day.

So a week from yesterday, it was hot out (not like yesterday; yesterday was unusually cool). I said to myself, "I will wear flip-flops for the other things I need to do, but I will put sneakers in the car to change into." When I arrived at the jail, guess what I discovered I had not, in fact, done.

So my choice was to announce my mistake and maybe get the same dispensation as the time last year, or maybe be turned away (this happens if, for instance, you forget your ID), or to not mention it and see if they didn't notice (a rule about no dangling earrings, for instance, is almost never enforced). I was still trying to decide when I reached the lobby, where the program director (my boss's boss, at the jail) happened to be leaving for the day.

She is a wonderful woman whom I admire tremendously. She always dresses with style, always calls people (women, anyway) "Sis," and is warm and friendly and yet impressively firm. She works tirelessly for the women but doesn't accept any nonsense. I can't imagine a better person for the role.

Anyway, I saw her and said, "Look at me... I came in flip-flops."
"Well, I have a pair of shoes upstairs you could wear," she said. "They'd be a little big on you, but I could have them sent down."

I gratefully and apologetically accepted. She left for the day, and a few minutes later, the shoes came down.

They were Much Too Big. Wearing them was like playing dress-up in your mother's shoes. If the point of the rule about sandals is to ensure, for instance, that you can run if you need to, or that your feet are protected, then this was by far a more dangerous set-up. But whatever: it satisfied the rules. I was able to do the volunteering. I will try never to make the same mistake again!

But afterward, what I thought was, These are big shoes to fill. Literally, and metaphorically. They say if you want to understand a person, walk a mile in their shoes, but what this experience made me think was how great (in all senses of the word) a person the programs director was. Hers are not easy shoes to step into.

ETA: Any stories of your own of wearing others' shoes? Share below! If I have enough, and if you give permission, I can print them up as a little book, and we can share the millions of dollars that come pouring when we sell it. (Maybe.. or maybe we can just share stories.)

ETA 2: Speaking of wearing your mother's shoes, here is Little Springtime as a toddler


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 11th, 2016 02:13 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful story! Now I'd like to make a collection of stories about wearing others' shoes--that's beautiful. You really made that woman's day--you brought her friend into a joyous event. Dang, yo, I'm getting teary thinking about it.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 11th, 2016 02:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - amaebi - Jun. 11th, 2016 04:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 11th, 2016 02:54 pm (UTC)
What a lovely woman! And an interesting experience. (Maybe keep an old pair in the trunk for just in case?)

I've had friends give me shoes as I tend to be caught short. I now wear a pair of smart French sandals that a friend in New York gave me. She'd been wearing them for years. I love that fact, thinking about how many cool places in Paris and NYC these shoes have been. I'll be taking them to Mpls. next week.

One time I had to wear my brother's shoes for a costume thing. As I fitted my feet into them, it hit me for the first time that other people stand differently. They made me stand differently, and at first I felt like someone else.
Jun. 11th, 2016 02:58 pm (UTC)
Oh wonderful, both stories! I like the thought of another's experiences seeping up from the shoes into your mind (or at least your imagination) in the first case, and I love what you say about feeling like someone else when you put on your brother's shoes. So right: people really do wear down their shoes differently.

And very good advice about keeping a pair in the trunk. I should do that.
Standing/walking differently - amaebi - Jun. 11th, 2016 04:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 11th, 2016 04:50 pm (UTC)
It's interesting to take that catchphrase literally. I realize that I had a vague notion that the literal sense was that the shoes would hurt. But you have made the whole thing much more subtle to me. Thanks!
Jun. 11th, 2016 06:16 pm (UTC)
Thinking about the shoes hurting is a whole nother aspect; now I'm thinking about that.
(no subject) - nipernaadiagain - Jun. 13th, 2016 04:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 13th, 2016 12:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - amaebi - Jun. 13th, 2016 01:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 11th, 2016 05:03 pm (UTC)
Well, shall we say I had to spend a little time getting used to wearing the right shoes after fourteen years of not being allowed to! :o)

Slightly more colourful shoes........
Jun. 11th, 2016 06:17 pm (UTC)
Yes, for all that people decry high heels, it must have been liberating to get to wear them if you chose to. Women's shoes are less durably made than men's, but way more interesting to look at!
(no subject) - cmcmck - Jun. 12th, 2016 09:43 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 11th, 2016 10:26 pm (UTC)
Lovely story. And lovely photo of Little Springtime. Today my youngest grandchild, 18 mo., has been galavanting about in my sunglasses and sun hat. Her father took video.
Jun. 13th, 2016 12:54 pm (UTC)
Awww! So very cute!
Jun. 12th, 2016 12:01 am (UTC)
On my recent family visit, my niece took a shine to my giant stompy riding boots and would not be parted from them. They are as tall as her entire legs but she dressed up in her princess outfit and stomped around in my giant boots and was quite pleased with herself. I did much the same at her age... I was a ballerina GI Joe, not a princess cowgirl, but it's the same principle. You can definitely tell we're related!
Jun. 13th, 2016 12:56 pm (UTC)
Boots up to her thigh! She was like The Highwayman! Let's hear it for ballerina GI Joes and Princess Cowgirls!
Jun. 12th, 2016 03:00 am (UTC)
but what this experience made me think was how great (in all senses of the word) a person the programs director was. Hers are not easy shoes to step into.

That's wonderful.

I don't know that I have any good stories about other people's shoes. I have much more often worn other people's shirts.
Jun. 13th, 2016 12:57 pm (UTC)
I would love to hear a story about wearing another's shirt if you have one you feel like sharing!
Jun. 12th, 2016 07:06 am (UTC)
I love the sound of your program director!
as for wearing someone else's shoes: does it count that a guest left a pair of shoes at my house to be thrown out, and I looked at them after she'd gone and thought, "Oh, I don't know...they're not as worn as all that..." :D
(They are a little small, so I won't be wearing them for walking, but polished up they're flash enough to see me through a concert, or a dinner, or something of the sort!)
Jun. 13th, 2016 12:58 pm (UTC)
That absolutely counts, and I like that story because of the rescue element. The shoes got to enjoy life and special functions a little longer, thanks to you.
Jun. 12th, 2016 09:30 am (UTC)
This was just incredible, I wish I had a shoe story to share as well :)
Jun. 13th, 2016 12:58 pm (UTC)
Sovay above mentions having a shirt story--maybe you have a story of sharing another piece of clothing?
Jun. 13th, 2016 04:29 am (UTC)
Lovely story!

I have ended up finding the catchphrase wrong - the shoes that hurt one person can fit another and the situation, that is hell from one person might even suit another one. Or - one person has more spoons to spare and so is able to cope better, hence not being more understanding even after having "worn the shoes"
Jun. 13th, 2016 01:07 pm (UTC)
The catchphrase that fits your insight better is "different strokes for different folks" (i.e., what suits one person is not what suits another) though that one doesn't capture the totality of what you're saying, either.

I think there are adages and phrases to go with different insights. So "You cannot understand a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes" is good for reminding people of the importance of empathy. Someone who has never even thought about what life as a homeless person is like would benefit from imagining (or actually living) a day in that life. But, as you point out, because people are different, empathy isn't always going to be enough, and may even hurt. Treating people as you yourself would like to be treated is a good way of ensuring that you don't treat people as lesser beings, but it may not always be the right thing for *them*.

Edited at 2016-06-13 01:07 pm (UTC)
Jun. 19th, 2016 12:41 am (UTC)
I scrolled back down and saw this entry again, now with the picture of toddler Little Springtime, and aaaaaaaah, so cute!

How did you decide on your children's LJ nicknames? Did they just come to you, or is there some deeper meaning behind them?
Jun. 19th, 2016 01:07 am (UTC)
Haha, yeah--she's a cutie in that picture (was a cutie in general)!

For Little Springtime, it's a direct translation of her Japanese name, Koharu (though the phrase is actually used to refer to a warm period in the autumn--but I didn't know that when we named her that). "Healing angel" is a description of a famous possessor (maybe the original possessor) of my youngest son's name. For the ninja girl, it was because at the time I started on LJ, she was taking jujitsu (and also she likes to move about undetected). And for the tall one, it was because when I started on LJ, he was the only one of the kids who was tall! Now the healing angel and Little Springtime are pretty tall as well :-)
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )

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