Today my coworker walked into Panera (our “office”) with a large bag and handed it to me. “If I give it to you in public, then I might not cry,” she told me as I pulled out the pink and green tissue paper.
Underneath the tissue paper was the fuzziest, most beautiful flannel tie blanket (the kind that you don’t have to sew, just cut strips and tie together) that I had ever seen. She’d done a fabulous job picking out colors, and as I unfolded it, it finally hit me that I was coming to the end of something. I’ll be finishing my full time job next Friday, and then transitioning from full time employment to a full time student studying International Education Policy.
As I looked closer at the flannel my coworker had chosen for the blanket, I saw that one side was a print full of shoes. All kinds of shoes. I never thought of myself as a shoe person, but after reading the accompanying letter, I realized that I’ve slowly developed an obsession with cute shoes—I adore my coral flats and black and white patterned wedges. If I wear something colorful in an outfit, it’s either my scarf or my shoes. I guess that just happens when you’re female.
Over the past few years, the concept of shoes have taken on a greater meaning for me. Despite not being on my feet for my job (my job entails sitting behind a computer most of the time), I’ve walked in many different places—the dusty streets and beaches of Haiti, the sidewalks of Boston, the back roads of North Carolina for Thanksgiving, the carpeted hallways of the DC hotel for the FIGT conference, the ice-covered walkways in New Jersey, and the new turf of Minneapolis for my best friend’s wedding. Soon, I’ll be privileged to walk through the hallways of Harvard.
This year has also been a journey professionally and personally—I’ve been stretched in ways I could have never imagined, and learned lessons that I know God will use someday. My feet have carried me places I never could have imagined.
But it’s not just my shoes that are important. As I thought more about shoes and returning to a student community, I remembered an activity that Barry Loy, Dean of Students at my undergraduate college, did with the incoming RA staff every year. He called it “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” and he always started the session with the song. Then we all went outside and lined up, and Barry would read a characteristic that may or may not apply to us—first family member to attend college, having a disability, member of a minority, etc.—and we would step forward if it applied. The idea was to get us to recognize the diversity and the importance of empathy…to walk a mile in their shoes.
When I taught in North Carolina, it was that concept of empathy that I wanted to impart on my students, more than anything. We don’t fully understand a person’s story until we walk a mile in their shoes. Amidst the diversity that comes with our increasingly globalized world, it’s that empathy that is going to bring us together as members of humanity when disagreements want to tear us a part.
So, when you put on shoes, remember that they are a reminder not just of your own journey, but also of the journey that others have walked.
I look forward to sharing more about my journey this next year as a grad student.