Letting the weight of something down...
Years ago, in the dawn of my third decade of existence, my father made what felt like at the time, a significant investment in a pair of shoes for his youngest son (me). They were a "dressier" style with a narrow frame and the sole of an athletic shoe for a base, fitting my petite runner's feet perfectly. I wore them barefoot and somehow I never perspired in them, no matter the climate.
I was a young father at the time, and my wife and I and two small children were in the midst of a cross-country move from our home in southeastern Idaho to northeastern Ohio, where we planned to finish school in the pursuit of a stable future. Naively, we imagined making the return trip after the passing of a few winters. A decade later, our family almost doubled in size, I loaded up my wagon with framed pictures, carefully packed books, boxes of clothing and a resilient fern, the age of our youngest daughter - and traveled west, leaving behind my family, for the start of a new future in the proximity of an extended tribe. It rained the whole way, or so it seemed. And it felt like I never stopped. I took a detour through Wyoming and traveled through rugged, mountainous terrain. I could see everything and nothing. It was a strange feeling. Occasionally, I would look in my rear view mirror and imagine my wife and children somewhere in all of those miles behind me.
The detour was intentional. It afforded me the chance to visit the place where my father had been buried two years earlier – an unexpected passing I learned about while I watched the slow, sulphuric blur of fireworks spraying across a dark, humid evening in a South Carolina August. It was the first time I had been able to touch his headstone – a smoothed coal, black granite with images I was fortunate enough to have designed – the small farmhouse he grew up in, a flowing river, stalks of wheat and a range of inconspicuous mountains – chiseled in tones of sparkling grey. I had no tools but my hands and a garden hose that had been disconnected from a nearby spigot. I broke off some fresh lilac, white and lavender colored, from a nearby bush growing wildly in a lonely field of sagebrush and juniper and spent the next hour cleaning away the remnants of what had been a harsh winter. At some point, I realized that all of my frantic cleaning protected me from my feelings. Grief. Sadness. Regret. I laid there, underneath an infinite expanse of Idaho sky and sun, imagining things I would have said – had all those miles that had separated us had somehow been traversable but more than once a year. It was mostly silent. Except for the sound of air hitting against a grove of mature Cottonwoods and at times, my own breath, mixing in with that air. That air mixing in with me, sustaining and protecting life.
I arrived in Boise just before dusk. Filling up at a sleepy gas station on the outskirts of the city, I couldn’t but notice that the back heel on those narrow, fancy shoes, had practically all but fallen off. I wondered how long I had been dragging that around. Days rolled by, feeling like a foreigner in a familiar geography. It was my first day off of work and house hunting. I found a local cobbler and brought my shoes in for a wished-for-fix. The short woman from behind the counter took a quick look and said, “Sorry, honey, but these are beyond repair. You see here…” she said, pointing to a narrow split on the side of my right shoe, “the whole infrastructure is compromised.” She added, “I mean we could put something on these for you – but they would just fall apart in a week. We’d basically be stealing from you at that point.”
A cold wash of something enveloping me, standing in that parking lot with those shoes, clasped together in my hands. The feeling of my father’s investment in his child taking the form of a pair of shoes that held me up all of those years – those hard, growing, beautiful seasons that took me into the dusk of my fourth decade of life.
I knew I would have to do something with them. Unceremoniously, I put them down next to a current of flowing water against a backdrop of mountain and sky. Still feeling held. By breath. By the sturdiness of soul – the kind that wears inward, deepening my relationship to existence.
Letting down...with longing breath...with trust...with feeling...so that I can experience all that has been there, softly waiting to hold me.