The shoes are grandfather’s, and most unusual. When I first set foot in them I was twelve. I didn’t know what they were. They had been handed down, I was told, through generations, and I should be honored to wear them. I wanted to ask Granddad why they were so special, but he wasn’t around. He’d passed away.
The first time I wore them to school, I felt proud. The shoes were gold and shiny, and I felt ten feet tall. I felt like I could go anywhere with them. Go faster than anything. Like I could do anything. But the other kids made fun of me for wearing them. They said they were too out of date. They weren’t cool enough. They weren’t in style. They were weird and goofy, and nobody wore gold colored shoes.
So I went home discouraged and told my mom about what happened.
She said, “Sometimes people don’t understand the value of a thing. They’re looking at your shoes, and they see shoes that don’t look like the ones they’re used to. They see shoes, but what they don’t see is where those shoes have been. Where they’ve walked, what they’ve tread on. They don’t know anything about your shoes. So they don’t know just how special they are.”
The next day I didn’t wear the shoes. I put them in the closet behind the old stuffed bear I’d had forever, that I didn’t use or need anymore. I’d grown out of it. I hadn’t had grandad’s shoes very long, but I felt like I’d grown out of them too. I’d keep them in the closet to remember him.
When I got to school wearing my modern shoes, the other kids accepted them. They didn’t pick on me and I fit in, but I didn’t feel special. I didn’t feel ten feet tall. I didn’t feel like I could do anything in the world that I wanted to. To go anywhere that I wanted to go. I felt like I’d be stuck in this town my whole life, and I’d wear what everyone else wore, and I’d do whatever anyone else told me to. And I didn’t like it.
So I went back to wearing grandad’s shoes and the other kids picked on me. But I shut them out, and I wore them anyway. I went where I wanted to go, and did what I wanted to do, and I didn’t let them tell me what I should be doing. I felt bad that I was alone and weird and strange, but I felt free.
Years past, and I grew up into an adult. I met someone and I married. We had children and I knew love and tenderness. My love didn’t like my shoes though. My love wanted me to get rid of the old tired things. I didn’t want to stop wearing them, but I loved my lover. So I put them away into the closet once more.
Without the shoes, I didn’t walk right. I started to limp through the day. I didn’t feel right. I didn’t act right. It was like I was a different person. It didn’t take long before my love noticed it too, but didn’t say anything. Didn’t say anything until all of the love had disappeared and nothing was left between us.
After my love was gone, I limped back to the closet, and put back on those comfortable old shoes. Those shoes that had carried me so far before. The ones that my grandfather had worn and his grandfather before him, and on and on. I started to walk right again. The limp was gone after a while. I could walk for miles and miles, and I saw lots of places, and I met lots of people. I could help them now. I was back to my old self.
I got a new job. I went to work with great ambition and energy, wearing my golden shoes. At first everyone was impressed with me, and I thought that I was going straight to the top. That my long years of struggling had finally paid off.
There came a day when the people I worked for stopped looking at what I was doing and started checking out my shoes. They didn’t like what they saw. Even though we were not in school anymore. They didn’t like the way they shone in the sun, and made me walk. They thought that my shoes should be dull and normal, something that everyone else wore.
My boss told me that I needed to perform, like the others in my team. That I was too busy thinking about high minded ideas and walking the wrong direction. That I needed to be less creative and work harder.
I was tempted to take my shoes off once more and put them away, but I’d learned from my previous mistakes and refused. Instead, I went my own way and became a success.
It’s been many years now. I have a grandson. I’m old and grey and tired. I sit him down and hand him my shoes.
I tell him, “I’ve learned something wonderful and true. The things that matter are not what others think. The things that matter are where you go and where you’ve been—what you do, and what you are. The shoes you wear are the record of these things. The people who know this will look at your shoes and see all of that in a glance, and the people who don’t will tell you to take those shoes off. But don’t you ever listen to them. You just keep wearing them, and I’ll keep watching you walk in them. And I’ll be proud.”
He’s wearing them to school today. I see him filling my shoes, and continuing our long walk. I know those shoes are safe, and I can rest easy. I know they will walk on and on—forever.