I sat adjacent from him. His eyes locked on the shoe box in my hand. He said no audible words but his face was spilling out the emotions his heart was trying desperately to bury. Most people see his tall, solid frame, his radiant caramel skin, his silver teeth and assume he is tough. His shell is tough, like well worn leather gloves that are just as protective as the day the tag came off. The charming smile and the macho exterior are protecting something tender inside. A heart that he is trying to delicately nurse back to heath, yet each new day brings new wounds; you can tell he’s beginning to give up on healing the wounds and forfeiting health for callouses. Seven years of unrelenting strain can wear down even the strongest spirit.
The box holds the next few moments of his social capital. Whatever lies inside has the potential to awaken the joy that is currently hibernating in his soul. Unmet expectations would remind him that he is not worthy of what others have. He has spent countless hours trying to convince the world, and himself, that the pendulum of cool is constantly swinging. It’s just a matter of time before it shifts in favor of his direction leaving the others on the wrong side, looking longingly at what he finally has. He can imagine the looks on their faces as they wish, for a change, that they could be as in vogue as he. But he is afraid to hope in the contents of the box. He has all too often been the one standing on the wrong side of the swag fence.
But this shoe box. This shoe box could change his position.
He was sitting in my office because the broken pieces of plain black faux-leather, the ones that his toes were precariously dangling out of, were hardly worthy to be called shoes. He had worn through the soles days ago and there was nothing but a small 4 inch piece of rubber on the bottom of his heel keeping the shoes together. The shoes constantly mocked him. To begin with they were Sketchers. Although he relentlessly petitioned to his peers that the “S” etched on the side of his footwear was equally as valuable as their Nike swoosh, they remained unconvinced. The S was his scarlet letter. A constant reminder of what he didn’t have and how it isolated him. If it was just the shoes his heart could have endured the laughing, but he knew deep down why he had Sketchers and not Nikes. It wasn’t the swoosh he was most desperate for, it was stability.
As a staff we knew what it would take to communicate that this was a place of stability, a place that would see not just needs but lavishly look for ways to provide for wants. New shoes would say that boldly.
As he took the box from my hand he tried to arrest the smile that hope was inviting in. He was afraid of hope, it had disappointed too many times to be trustworthy. So it was with cautious anticipation that he began to lift the lid. He used the bulk of his courage to get this far and now a simple piece of thin white paper taunted him further, demanding more courage from his already frail heart. With another deep breath and much trepidation he gently pulled back the sheet that was between him and his next wave of emotions.
As the sheet revealed black his heart fell a little. This wasn’t a step up from the previous reality of the hum-drum, plain-jane, average existence he was used to. He needed something notable, something that would draw the accolades of others. With disappointment he drew back the rest of the paper.
It was then that hope burst forth, no longer captive to fear. It was the coveted swoosh, glimmering it all it’s silver glory. It might as well have been made of pure gold. His eyes danced wildly, the dimples on his face were as deep as craters, and the excitement in his fingers caused him to drop his newest prized possession.
The old reminders that dangled from his feet flew off in an instant and the new untainted shoes quickly found their new home. These shoes stood strong, the sole secure and whole; the complete opposite of what used to define his soles. And as he stood on this new confidence, it quickly traveled north.
More souls than one were refreshed that day as old soles were replaced. We heard the whisper of God remind us of the ways He so lavishly has seen not only our needs but been faithful in our wants and our dreams. We all stood a little taller that day, secure in a love that never runs dry.