“One Thursday morning at the Women’s Lunch Place, a soup kitchen/community center to support homeless women in downtown Boston, I was given this gift of a story in response to the opening prompt “Tell me about your shoes.” I pass this story along now in honor of the woman who shared it.
You see these beautiful white sneakers? I didn’t always have them. My last pair of shoes was pretty sad. After many winters of walking through snow and slush, I was holding them together with cardboard and masking tape. So I decided to go to the mall to get a new pair. There’s a Payless Shoes store there that often has sneakers I can afford.
Walking through the mall I knew everyone was looking at me. They didn’t like me being there. I wanted to get my new shoes quick and leave. Walking down the aisle, I saw a really nice pair of white sneakers. There was only this one pair in my size left. I put them on and couldn’t believe how good they felt. I walked all around the store in them, thinking how nice it would be if they were mine. I knew I didn’t have the money to get them that day but I also knew that if I waited, they’d be gone. I brought them up to the front of the store and asked the guy behind the counter if he would hold them for me. He said it was against store policy. I promised him I would come back as soon as I could to buy them, but he just kept shaking his head and saying no, he couldn’t. I put my masking tape sneakers back on and left the mall as fast as I could.
For the next two weeks, I scraped by until I had enough money to go back for my shoes. Funny how I kept calling them mine, as if somehow I could protect them from going home with anyone else. The day I had enough money, I ran all the way to the mall, and ignored all those people staring at my masking tape shoes. I went to the shelf where I left them, with my eyes half shut afraid to look. Sure enough they were gone. I looked at every pair of shoes in the aisle that had my size, but there were no shoes left like them. They were gone.
I started for the door. I wasn’t ready to try on anything else that day. I just felt too worn down to look any more. That’s when the manager yelled at me. I started to walk faster to get away, but he ran after me, still yelling. “I have your shoes”. It took me a few times of hearing it to get what he meant. ‘I HAVE YOUR SHOES.’
“OK”, I said. “I’ve got the money now to pay for them.”
“No. No”, he said. “They’ve been paid for. That’s why I’ve got them. They’re all yours.”
I can’t tell you fully what went on in my head in that moment. I only remember leaving my old shoes in the trash bin and walking out into the mall wearing my new white sneakers with money still in my pocket. I took my time leaving that day. As I walked past each stranger, I looked them in the eye and smiled. I felt so good. It wasn’t that I thought that they were looking at me differently because of my new sneakers. It was more that I was seeing them differently. I used to think no one was on my side. But that day I knew that any person I walked by could be the one who gave me my new shoes. Whoever they were, I wanted them to know I was saying ‘Thank you’.”
(Thank You, Lani Peterson ©2014, Healing Story Alliance)