Enlightened it is to value our blessings, to savor a connection to that which sustains us. But profound suffering results from hopeless attachment to that which is past.

Away for a rainy weekend in Cape May, we braved the elements to venture out on foot for dinner. My waterproof walking shoes were waterproof for the first five years that I owned them. Walking is wear, and cracks in the sole are its inevitable result. Duct tape in the inside and a layer of orthotics do not suffice when the ground is wet and there is no avoiding the puddles. Fortunately, damp feet did not detract from a sumptuous dinner and lovely company.

Back at the bed and breakfast room, I entertained the wild dream that my seven-year-old shoes might last the weekend to end their tenure of dignified service. I felt I owed them a warm spot for drying out. What better place, I thought, than leaning against the screen mesh of the gas fireplace in the sitting room? I placed my hand on the screen and determined it just warm enough for the task without being so hot as to pose a hazard.

Regrettably, it was just hot enough to induce one of the myriad minor ordeals that serve as such powerful learning experiences in my life.

After an hour, I placed my hand inside one shoe to find it cozily warm and thoroughly dry. In removing my shoes from their post, I should not have felt terribly surprised that the sole of one of them had adhered fast to the mesh, affectionately melting and warmly basking in the comfort of the hearth–or at least in the wire screed above it.

My entreaty for the shoe to relinquish its ecstasy resulted in the peeling away of a good portion of the the sole, where it remained woven into the screen. I puzzled for some minutes as to what to do, but the hour being late, I felt it best to consider the matter in the morning.

And oh, how determined I was not to leave a smear of synthetic rubber in the screen, nor to have to pay for a new one unsmeared! The next morning, after breakfast, my companion and I set about poking fragments of my mistake out of each hole in the grid, ruining two ballpoint pens and finally resorting to the pocket clip point of the plastic cap of one of them in order to rid the mesh of the mess. It took just under an hour, and I set the screen back as it was in the fireplace, feeling quite the genius for my solution and entirely the dumbass for having brought about the crisis in the first place.

But still, the original problem remained in exacerbated form. I had sought for two years to evade fate, and now she had forced my hand. With the toe portion of the sole of one show missing, I put on my shoes one final time and marched with my companion out into the wet streets once again, she proceeding with her elegant gait, me clown-footing it on my heels to avoid soaking my socks again. In a few blocks, we found ourselves at Casale’s shoe store, where a young fellow named Carl patiently assisted me in finding a comfortable pair of black Dunhams that fit my short, wide feet. It took nearly as long to complete the entire transaction as it had required to scrape the goo out of the fireplace screen, but the money was well worth it, and my shoes, eminently comfortable.

And as we walked back out onto the wet street with my new waterproof shoes, I recognized the symbolism of it all–of my reluctance on a mundane level to discard an old pair of shoes for a new pair, much as I fret over a move to a new apartment or a new job or a new phase of life, so wistful for moments and treasures long ago embraced and cherished.

Enlightened it is to value our blessings–to savor a connection to that which sustains us.

But profound suffering results from hopeless attachment to that which is past.

I step forward now in my new shoes, ready to cherish the steps I take in them, determined to ask not one mile from them beyond where they can carry me.

Photo credit: Michelle Han

I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers March 2023 Slice of Life Challenge.

9 thoughts on “Steps

  1. Oh, Paul! An adventue inside an adventure. You deilghtful post reminds me of nesting dolls, one surprise inside another, and another… I loved reading this, and I love Calsale’s shoe store in Cape May, as well! Thank you for it all 🙂

    1. Thanks for that observation. I could not help but see the episode as part of a trend, and I simply had to reflect. I appreciate the thoughtful comment.

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