Ever since I was a young girl I’ve enjoyed trying on other people’s shoes. I liked walking around in them so I could imagine what their experience was like as they moved through life.
When I stepped into my mom’s high heels I understood how challenging it was to move about gracefully. My dad’s tennis shoes made me stride like a winner. My big brother’s snowmobile boots caused me to feel tall and in control of my surroundings. The sandals that belonged to my little sister made me feel like I was the center of attention as I pranced around. When my friend in 5th grade and I traded shoes for the day I became adventurous as I stomped through the halls of school in her hiking boots.
I continued stepping into other people’s shoes as an adult. My husband’s shoes made me feel sturdy and competent when I borrowed them to take out the garbage. My daughter’s flats showed me what it’s like to travel a peaceful path. The black New Balance shoes that belonged to my son felt as if they could help me climb to new levels of existence.
I’ve always been fascinated by other people’s footprints, too. When I encounter someone’s tracks in the sand or the snow, I usually make a point of stepping into them – no matter how big or how small they appear to be. I walk in other people’s footsteps long enough to get a sense of their pace as they move. Experiencing the way people approach their journeys causes me to imagine what their life story might be.
A considerable part of my life has been spent trying on other people’s shoes and envying their stride. I often wanted to be following anyone’s path but my own, because I have felt powerless; a victim of circumstances that seemed to stop me in my tracks. I didn’t arrive at the goals I had once set for myself. I didn’t possess the wealth and positions of power that my society seems to celebrate. But during the recent U.S. presidential campaign, I arrived at a place in my life where I’m very happy to be in my own shoes. I’m satisfied with who I am because something has become painfully obvious to me over the past several months: Not everybody in my country displays the ability to care enough about other people to consider what it’s like to be in their shoes. I realized that the ability to do so can be used to promote unity, peace, love, and a healthy society. To be able to immediately consider the plight of others before one’s self is a valuable gift.
Despite my wish that everyone in America was suddenly capable of considering what it feels like to be on everyone else’s path through life, I know it simply won’t immediately happen. But, it can eventually happen for most people because we are all members of the human race and can relate to one another on that basic level. People who are familiar with only wearing hate-filled boots will probably have no immediate motivation to relate, seek other ways of being, and change into fresh, supportive shoes. I do believe, though, that they can change from a stance of hatred and choose a different path, once they experience the personal benefits of doing so. It is the responsibility of those of us who are familiar with the path to peace to show the benefits of traveling on it to others.
I now believe that those of us who are able to easily step into other shoes are the ones with the real power in America. We are able to recognize when someone needs a new pair of shoes, or if they simply need a path cleared of barriers so they can forge ahead and experience success in the shoes they wear. We, who are sensitive to other people’s journeys, have what it takes to guide and accompany our fellow citizens in a healthy direction that will make it possible for all of us to achieve our personal goals.
As a new government takes shape in my country, I am committed to doing whatever I possibly can on my path to help make it a place for every American to thrive – one step at a time.
by Julie Ryan