I have a great pair of good old REI hiking boots. We all went to get them as a family the day I decided to forsake suburbia and find nature wherever we were.
We were in Houston, Texas.
In spite of copperhead snakes, seeing the occasional deer carcass being devoured by alligators, and a boa constrictor slithering into a swampy bog, we attempted to embrace life in the mosquito infested thickets of scrubby swamp trees.
We were actually able to swing from some vines, so that was neat. We learned a lot about mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are a product of the fall. Our white collie was literally black the second she got out of the car due to those pesky, impertinent insects. Then she would start whining, loudly. Then we would go home without even hiking, because we didn’t want to end up looking like that, either.
We also appreciated the protection of the hiking boots when we fell into amazing adventures with piles of fire ants the size of…well…Texas.
All in all, however we did find some pretty beautiful moments to savor. And, I loved those boots for it. They taught me to find beauty in what most people would consider ugliness. I did.
And then, when we decided to move to Tetonia, I was wearing those boots. When we first stepped into the last place Joy would take breath on earth, those boots were on my feet.
When we hiked by the Tetons and visited Badger Creek, it was those boots that carried me there. When we danced in the setting sun, we danced in those clunky boots. All of us.
Did I mention the entire family had matching boots? Another reason I am fond of them.
But, those are not my favorite pair of shoes.
No, my favorites are some flimsy, slip on sparkly American Eagle flats, because they took me down roads I’d never been, and hopefully, for the both of us, that we will never again have to tread.
I didn’t have the right shoes to wear to a graveside service, and I didn’t want to wear sadness. So, I had chosen to wear Joy’s most favorite dress of mine–a yellow dress with silk flowers sown under an overlay on the top, so the kids could see them and nearly touch them, but not quite. Every two year old loves that dress, as they try to get to the flowers, and Joy was no exception.
But, my shoes. I couldn’t wear hiking boots, and I couldn’t do high heels–we were going to be in the grass. So, I realized I would have to go to a store.
I went to a store. It was surreal.
It was strange to be walking around while people were having fun shopping and I could hardly breathe, thinking that I was without her. I felt like I was suffocating.
I tried to keep the tears from coming, but they would not stop. I felt so awkward and I just stared at the rows of shoes, seeing nothing.
And then, that little sparkle caught my eye, and I looked at them. I picked them, really kind of ambivalent, because I didn’t care. I just wanted to get out, get out and back home (somewhere in the back of my mind, I kept thinking if I went home she would be there).
So, I got the shoes. I put them on when I got home, and I felt…better. Because I felt like Joy picked them out for me. And I knew these shoes would take me where I’d never been.
When I had to stand and read at the Memorial Service, as I was getting up, the light reflected from them and I felt like those shoes were winking and smiling at me–giving me a kind of cheerful comfort and courage.
When I had to watch the dirt go on top of her little pink casket, the sequins fluttered in a small breeze, almost letting me know that they trembled with me.
When I had to visit her grave for the first time, they were there, easy to slide off so I could meet her the way we always used to–with bare feet.
When I had to go to church for the first time, they were there–a bright bunch of colors reflecting all the light from the outside and trying to put it in me, when I felt I had none.
When we finally had to once again let my children go places and do things without me right there, I waved goodbye to my children in those shoes, hoping nothing would happen.
When I said goodbye to the room in which Joy died, those shoes were beside me, sitting in kind of a reverent, subdued quietude; hushed.
I have worn them through these many years of grief, always reassured by those little sparkles. If I weren’t so sad, sometimes I think that with those sparkles, I can hear her laughing…
The sequins are getting worn. I hate that. I hate when there are obvious signs of the time that has past since she has been gone from us. I hate that I can’t say “She was just here. Don’t you remember?” I hate that her smell is only a memory, her little baubles and trinkets long since picked up and put away in her special box. I wish it didn’t have to be like that, but I think there is a reason.
It’s as if the shoes are telling me that they must soon retire. That the places we’ve been–so many “firsts” after Joy’s death, so many were so heartwrenching, that it has made the shoes old past their time. But, that the spirits of their sparkly, sequins–colorful and youthful–were somehow imparted to me, so that I could go on…and go on bravely and with part of my Joy in me.
So, now…what will my favorite shoes be? My hiking boots taught me to find beauty in perceived ugliness. And, oh, I did! Only then, could my spirit be ready to truly understand more beauty.
My sparkly shoes have taught me a great deal about life and how to find beauty–even deep beauty–in death and grief and feeling like you can’t breathe and you can’t take another step. Oh, there is beauty in that, which makes all the world seem even far more meaningful and beautiful.
And, now, I can see in what will always be my most favorite pair of shoes of all; the ones I was born with–my bare soles–that heaven is all around me.