Wednesday was my birthday. I got a new pair of shoes.
Birthdays at advancing age tend to be heavy affairs. No more hot-breath doozies that youth brag about. Such are now only fumes of faded dreams long past. Getting long in the tooth tends to load us down with burdens grievous to be borne, or else it’s the barometric pressure that makes it feel that way. Whatever. But my load lightened with the UPS delivery of the box containing a new pair of shoes.
I pop the box open. There they are, heavy-duty Sperry’s, manly footwear, nice Vibram sole, full of bounce which is critical in the older generation. I put ‘em on. They’re a little tight around the edges. I can tell right off they’ll need some breaking in to be comfortable.
In the old days we usually got new shoes in September, the beginning of a school year. I always had a love-hate relationship with new shoes, especially the Sunday school sort. Why? For a lot of reasons, same as you.
First of all, new shoes were usually of the lace-up variety. “Tie your shoes, son” mama would say. Now these models required work. They had to be kept polished and clean, unlike smelly sneakers which were a pleasure to wear.
Another reason is that these lace-up models required breaking in. It’s hard to find a worse torture on your toes than trying to break in a pair of brand-new shoes. The only way to do it is to wear them.
I was always self-conscious when wearing new shoes. I felt people snickering as I shambled down the street in a robotic walk. “Look, Bubba’s got a new pair of shoes. He’s trying to break ‘em in.” I wanted to be invisible.
But it was inevitable that new shoes got scuffed up. Oh, we’d avoid deliberately kicking stones, cans or one another; but it’s impossible to avoid scratches and dents from happening to new shoes. Look, life’s full of stones, cans and one another.
One of the lessons I learned from this experience was whenever I bought a new car or anything subject to damage by the insensitive public, the first thing I’d do is go kick it. It relieves the anxiety of someone dinging it later. New shoes provide many instructive lessons of life.
It takes time and patience to break in new shoes. I wouldn’t say it’s the same as breaking in a horse, or for that matter a spouse. Some things are impossible to accomplish. I used to enjoy riding horses. “Is this horse broken in?” I’d always ask. Mostly they were. But life’s full of surprises with horses and spouses.
There was this time I remember when standing next to an 800-pound brute of a horse and wondering if he’d been broken in. He had wild, crazed eyes that seemed to read my mind and smell my fear. It took about ten seconds to understand the utility of saddle horns.
New shoes teach other valuable lessons for instruction in discernment. Things like what kind of foundation one’s walking on. Foundations are important. Without a ‘firm understanding,’ so to speak, one is tiptoeing on thin air. Like the voguish ‘driving shoes.’ They have soles thinner than the gold on a bride’s ring on a drive-through Vegas wedding. They’re fit only for show by today’s popinjays who sashay around on thick pile carpet making selfies. Life’s not always soft and comfy.
It takes true grit to break in a new pair of manly footwear. I remember hearing often, “Better wear some socks or you’ll get blisters.” I didn’t listen then, and I’d like to say I’m wiser now with age, but it’s just not so. I wear my new shoes today without socks. It’s cool, and after all, it’s my birthday.
Still, the advice rings true again. Blisters happen. But here again is instruction in life: a lot of things need insulation in the breaking-in process. Take relationships, for example.
In any new personal encounter, it’s just not wise to bare soul and body to strangers, even if they seem to have possibilities of being our new best friends. Some insulation around the tight edges avoids the rub and grind of discord when the subjects of politics and religion invariably come up. Given time, the breaking-in process will work, or it won’t.
Satis verborum, enough said. Life and shoes have a lot in common if you want to look at it this way.
But for today, I’m proudly walking around in my new pair of shoes and breaking in another new year of life. Good luck with your own new things.
March 6, 2020