The Shoes That Changed My Life

I was on my own at eighteen. The initial hurdles of job - apartment - food took several months to sort but were hashed out with only a few tears. Frankly, I appreciated the distraction these trivialities provided. However one large necessity still loomed before me, insurmountable in its monumental proportions: shoes.

I am a large man, almost seven feet tall, with feet to match. Size sixteen shoes are not readily available at Wal-Mart or Pay-Less, they must be special ordered, at considerable expense. I checked catalogs and discovered that even the least expensive pair would cost me well over half a week's pay, money I could not afford to spend. Meanwhile, the shoes I had were quickly wearing out as I walked from home to work to the grocery store and home again every day.

For a short time I found a solution: size thirteen sandals could be purchased at Wal-Mart for about twenty dollars. Since the sandals were not enclosed my toes and heels could hang off of them without too many difficulties. Dress shoes were a bigger concern. I had an old pair from my halcyon days which I only wore to church on Sundays. They were worn at the beginning of my exile, and were quickly becoming more so. Weekly applications of super glue were able to address some of the emergent repair issues but I knew the situation was not indefinably maintainable.

I'm sensitive about my height (which most casual observers view as a universally positive attribute), not only because at least a dozen people a day feel that it is necessary to comment on it, but because - as a gay man who moves in gay circles - I have learned that sometimes questions about the specifics of my dimensions: height, shoe size, et cetera, are actually questions about dimensions of a more "personal nature". So I was defensive when the gay gentlemen of a certain age, who sometimes gave me rides to church, asked my shoe size. After some, frankly rude, dissembling tactics on my part he was eventually successful in persuading me to relent with a meek "sixteen". I returned home from church feeling betrayed that someone I trusted, this man who was old enough to be my father, would inquire about something so personal.

About a month later he approached me at church: "Hey, I've got some old shoes that i think might fit you, if you want them."

Still feeling hurt I looked at him coldly: "Thank you, but I don't think you wear my size."

He was taken aback: "Well, they were really big on me, so I think they might work."

After service I reluctantly went back to his truck. He showed me two, new in-box, pairs of shoes: one pair of dress shoes and one pair sneakers - both size sixteen. They were his style, not mine - but were clearly not old, ill-fitting shoes in search of a home. These were special ordered for me, at an expense I knew was about one month of my rent.

I’m reminded of those shoes whenever I volunteer at Montrose Grace Place, particularly when confronted with a stand-offish teenager who is rude, or obscene, or unappreciative. A very nice man gave me shoes when I couldn’t get them for myself. At the time I was hurting too much, was too suspicious of other people, and was simply too angry to recognize what he was trying to do, and so I was rude to him. He could have given up. He could have decided that if I wasn’t going to be nice to him then I could do without his help, instead he decided to help me anyway.

I look at these kids and I see that angry, wounded 18 year old I used to be and I’m reminded that we have to help people who need help. Not necessarily people who ask for help, or people who are appreciative of help, or people willing to jump through hoops to get help - just people who need help.

That is why I volunteer with Montrose Grace Place: because it helps kids, just because they need help.


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