My church was trying to establish a consistent presence with the youth in our parish. There had been a few different leaders/youth ministers over the years but none at the time lasted more than a year. The constant turnover didn’t help with creating stability in the program and keeping interest.
By tenth grade church leaders were trying again, and there was a guy in charge. I remember we had a social event. It must have been an actual dance because there was dancing that night and I can’t imagine dancing just being a small part of the evening rather than the focal point. Anyway, it’s awkward enough to go to dances, but I was trying to push myself and trying to meet people.
Anyway, what I’m sure was intended to be a fun ice breaker ended up having an isolating effect. Wouldn’t it be fun for the girls to leave a shoe in a pile and the guys pick up a shoe and that’s how the first dance begins? What could possibly go wrong?
I wore tennis shoes a lot at the time. I didn’t care about having cute shoes; I wanted comfort. Besides it was hard enough to find dress shoe flats in my size let alone sandals or other styles. At six feet tall, big feet mean large shoes with no need for extra height through heels. The most comfortable pair of shoes I ever had were some Airwalks (see above image) I got in 8th grade. It was like walking on clouds. In tennis shoes, I sported a men’s 12 because finding a comparable women’s shoe in the stores was impossible. The color options might be different for men’s shoes, but I wasn’t going to be sporting neon pink or green shoes anyway, so it didn’t really matter.
So this pile of shoes had plenty of tennis shoes, but they were small and somehow that made them cute. What teenage guy is going to select the shoe that is the same size or bigger than his own and even looks like it could be his? Granted it should have been obvious it belonged to me, but when you’re choosing from a pile of inanimate objects it’s probably easier to forget that when not staring at a line of girls.
Needless to say, I collected my own shoe. The youth minister took pity and danced with me.
This is just another one of many moments that helped shape my insecurity. Feelings of being different, standing out too much. Feeling awkward and uncomfortable in social situations. If I had been in a place where I was comfortable with myself, then I’m sure moments like this wouldn’t have been so embarrassing. I might have been able to brush it off easier, but experiences like this got under my skin more than it should have.
But you can’t cut yourself off from the world. You have to find a way to deal with awkward situations. So I have to find comfort in the fact that I didn’t barricade myself in my room. I kept pushing the limits of my comfort zone, even if progress seemed very slow.
At some point during tenth grade, I was sitting in class looking at people’s shoes. I think I had finished a test and was waiting for the bell to ring. And I started thinking of the adventures that shoes are part of, and the following came out. It was never titled; it was meant to be viewed as a kind of riddle.
They travel thousands of miles
Yet don’t complain
They have memories to share
But are unable to whisper
They talk by their actions
If you’d only listen
Thousands of marks and scratches
Along the journey of life
Until one day their life
They get thrown about and tossed away
As if they meant nothing at all