I remember shopping for trekking shoes once with a friend, who was more experienced than I was in such matters. I settled on something that looked suitably pricey/branded/affordable–a pointless endeavour since they would only be worn on mountaintops where my only audience would be a bunch of goats–and proceeded to exclaim in relief that I would no longer have to worry about footwear matters for my trip. Whereupon said experienced friend told me that I should spend at least a month wearing the shoes so that they’d be “broken in” and more comfortable for the trek. Not entirely exhilarated at the idea of having to wear the heavy things about on campus for a month (all the cool kids wore flip flops to match their fishmonger attires at lectures), I made some quip about why shoe factories didn’t employ underpaid sweat-shop kids to walk about in new shoes, breaking them in first.
I thought it was a pretty funny quip, but he didn’t laugh and rather looked at me as if I had said something stupid. He then told me that I was being silly (said friend took footwear rather seriously): breaking in shoes wasn’t about making the shoes more comfortable–it was so that your feet could grow into the shoes . Shoes didn’t magically conform to a certain person’s feet, no matter how well-made they were – only feet could grow accustomed to shoes. Just because a pair of shoes was well-worn didn’t mean they would be comfortable, unless they were well-worn because of you.
The shoe-salesperson, who was kneeling beside me, concurred and nodded sagely, and they both cast pitying gazes upon me, me who knew so little about feet and shoes.
Ha ha, so did that mean I could break in stilettos if I walked in them enough, I asked said friend in a jovial manner, trying to break the awkward silence that accompanied my embarrassment.
He replied seriously that yes, I could, but I’d probably have to go through hell first to get my feet into the correct shape (said friend possessed little humour regarding footwear, or anything else for that matter).
I remember this little incident, mainly because it was the only time I had ever been embarrassed over shoes and also because it was interesting to me that my own perceived superiority over an inanimate object–a shoe–had been erroneous. It chafed at my ego that I was in fact the subjugated party, my feet in a war of attrition that it would ultimately lose, shaped and twisted to the whims of some strips of cloth and leather.
I was humbled at the thought that my shoes were bigger than I was.
And yet, it was also a cheering reminder of the plasticity of the human body–a reminder of our ability to surmount the odds, of how adaptable we could be to even the worst of surroundings. How we, the living, could triumph over the dead, as long as we kept on walking and growing. For surely even the greatest of mountaineers, before they set off on their journeys to heights unknown–surely even they too had experienced the slight squashing of the toes and the uncomfortably tough soles.
And so, my friends, I share with you this story of shoes, and hope that you can garner some wisdom from my pain. When next you encounter a seemingly unsurmountable task, remember the parable of the shoes and know that for us, Impossible is Nothing.