The girl next to me in my Intro to Political Theory class wore shiny red shoes. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them. I imagine that a person with shiny red shoes always feels put together and confident. My own shoes often tend toward the practical. You know, black “go-with-anything” boots or the classic brown loafers. The closest I came to red shoes was the year that I bought maroon Danskos. Even though they were comfy and expensive for my young mom budget, they didn’t evoke feelings of luxury. Maroon Danskos are for comfort and ease. Red shoes are for joy.
Right now, my daughter is consumed with my black peep toe wedges the same way I am consumed with red shoes. She eyes them and tries them on, parading around with an air of confidence and elegance. These shoes take her to dances and parties for fancy ladies (we say this in an uppity accent—faunncy ladies). This is almost certainly an improvement over her Mary Janes, which just take her to school and sometimes the grocery store. I understand. Even my nicest pair of shoes only take me to limited places.
Of course, if we think about shoes very much, we’re reminded of the old adage “before you judge another, walk a mile in their shoes.” This always makes me think of beat up loafers and worn out tennis shoes. I remind myself of this saying when I’m critiquing a decision someone made, or analyzing whether the man begging at the intersection is worthy of my dollar. “Walk a mile in their shoes,” I whisper before handing over whatever change I happen to have.
The difference between the red shoes of my fantasies and the worn out tennis shoes of my compassion is stark. The red shoes are shoes of joy. They are shoes that invite dancing and laughter, beckoning me toward a life lived enthusiastically and with abandon. The tennis shoes are shoes of sympathy and humbleness. They ground me in realities of the world and remind me not to let me think too highly of myself.
This is probably part of the allure of red shoes. Their impracticality, their shininess, the very joie de vivre that makes them appealing is a bit like a vacation in the Carribean. It’s exciting and exotic but cut off from real life. The real world is practicality and hardship, the need to run to keep up with life and the ability to walk comfortably next to someone who is hurting. Real life needs practical shoes.
Lately, though, I’m rethinking those red shoes. It seems to me that I might have underestimated them. What I took for reckless abandon and a certain cockiness may in fact be something more profound. Maybe those red shoes are shoes that invite us into infectious living, drawing attention to the way we walk and the love we offer.
While mentally walking in another’s worn out tennis shoes is helping me learn compassion, fanciful strolls in red shoes are calling me to something even bigger: hope. They remind me not of a light hearted optimism (“oh, everything will work out, tra la la”) but of a fierce grounding in a God of abundance.
Faced with this abundance, this love, this joy for life, we might start asking new questions. We might stop looking for the bare minimum we can do for another person and start looking for the most we can do. Why walk in another’s shoes when you can dance in them instead?
Why stop at easing suffering when we could be bringing joy?
I know, that’s not an easy idea. It’s a red shoe idea—an idea that makes our hearts flutter but seems unattainable. Maybe, though, we need more red shoe ideas. Maybe tennis shoe ideas—practical, safe and helpful as they are–aren’t cutting it anymore. Or at least, aren’t cutting it all the time. Maybe we need to open ourselves up to the possibility that there’s a place in our closets for red shoes and tennis shoes.
I’m into experiments so I’m going to suggest this one. Let’s practice looking for red shoe opportunities. Let’s practice looking for opportunities to bring joy and real hope to others. Let’s practicing dancing, not just walking.
My running shoes are sitting by the door, reminding me that ideas are great but its feet-on-the-pavement actions that will make a difference. So here are some questions I’m going to be asking to help me make the shift to red-shoe living.
You see the difference in the questions, right? Both are important, really, they are. Sometimes all I can do mentally, physically or emotionally is try to summon up a bit of compassion. But those red-shoe questions are coming from a place of abundance. They’re coming from a place of hope–a place that trusts that there is enough room for everyone at the party.