Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about shoes. So much can be learned about oneself, another, one’s culture or age group, even a character in a play, from the shoes people wear.
I recently bought a pair of thin soled, very light, designed for urban life, “bare” shoes. It’s hot here in the summer and I don’t want to wear flip-flops or those high-tech sandals people in Vermont are so fond of. I want shoes that let me feel the ground, the air around my feet, and help me strengthen muscles at the same time. I want to walk barefoot in the city.
When my shoes arrived, I put them on and a strange realization occurred: as we age, we tend toward the wrong direction. We tend toward a cushiony life of comfort and security when we are better served by an adventurous life full of risk-taking. The cushiony life of comfort and security leads to atrophy of muscles, deadening of the senses, a slow dispiritedness that eventually leads to death. Death of the senses, death of the body and death of the soul. The more we surround ourselves with things and situations that have at their core solely our safety and comfort, the more we are choosing death.
Sound extreme? Think about it. Consider your shoes. The more we pad them, add cushions and supports, and distance our bodies (and ourselves) from the ground the less we’re in contact with— experiencing— both our senses and musculature and the living world around us. We become, as it were, ungrounded. Metaphorically and literally disconnected from life and from ourselves.
And then what happens? Our senses become dulled, our muscles become weak and atrophy, and we need more and more cushiony comforts. We derive our security, not from an inner connection with life and it’s outer manifestation— the ground we walk upon and the world around us— but from the false sense of stability we gain (momentarily) from padding, cushioning. Then we need more and more cushiony comfort and security because we’ve lost our real security— being connected to life, being challenged by the adventure, the uncertainty, the unpredictable balance of life. In fact, as we age and tend toward cushiony comforts we lose our balance altogether.
In “The Kiss”, the old priest wears hard soled (note the pun: hard soul-ed!) oxfords that clack the ground setting up a friction between his feet (and self) and the ground (life). Even though he’s retired, he’s still rather formally attired. Armored. And that formalism is what separates him from the people (and life) he longs to connect with. You could say the shoes are the outward manifestation of his sorrow. They keep him apart from life. Like the seminary, they are the symbols of a life of celibacy— a life where what is natural, vibrant and alive is avoided or repressed. It’s all there in the shoes he wears— all that behavior and belief and loss.
Like I said, you can learn a lot about yourself, others, one’s culture or age group, even a character in a play, from the shoes people wear. Think about it.