“Walk a little in my shoes; see what I see, hear what I hear, feel what I feel, then maybe you will understand why I am the way I am.”–Jerose
“If God sends us on strong paths, we are provided strong shoes.”–Corrie ten Boom
Two emails found at the end of a full Saturday. A day in which I tried to balance the needs of others and the mundane chores of life we all face. The fading sunlight kissed the western sky with a melon-colored glow that felt warm on my neck as I completed the last little task for a dear one. By the time I made it home, the dust remained in writable levels on all of my furniture, but I had managed to somehow be of small service to loved ones. After a quick shower, I started dinner. It was already full-on dark, but I felt a good-kind of tiredness swathe me like a robe.
In the kitchen, I scurried about like a mouse being chased by a cat throwing together a gluten-free pizza for myself, and salads for John, my husband, and me. Our daughter was with friends for the evening, and John had already purchased a pizza for himself as he doesn’t require a gluten-free option. Pouring myself a glass of golden wine, I sipped slowly as I relaxed in the rhythm and routine of the kitchen, my life-long source of comfort and creativity. John would be back home soon, so could we eat, share conversation, and watch a bit of college football.
An hour or so after dinner, John walked over to a neighbor’s house to visit with a couple of buddies. I remained home, relaxing in the quiet. What made me decide to do it, I don’t know, but I picked up my phone and began scrolling through emails. I immediately began deleting all the junk and buy-me emails that so many companies send once they get your email address, and was about to close the app . . .
Wait, what? Who is this person? Is this spam? Hmmm . . . Should I even click it open? It seems real enough though. Huh? Oh my goodness! Wow!
My heart began to race and pound as if I were running from a knife-wielding maniac in one of those B-level slasher movies. Instead, however, I was mentally attempting to run away from the words of an email sent by a person with a name that I did not recognize, but this person sure did seem to think he or she knew me. While there was nothing life-threatening in the email, the unknown sender certainly meant for his or her words to cut, and I was definitely feeling the intended slashes.
Instead of closing the email app, I clicked over to my work email. WHY???? Scrolling through, I began to make mental notes of things to complete tomorrow afternoon and delete spam. That was when I ran across yet another negative note from a different person. Why did I open my email? Why didn’t I just leave the phone alone and focus solely on the book I had planned on reading or continue watching the football game? Why did I pick up that blasted phone?
Immediately, I was reminded of a documentary that both a friend and my dad had recommended entitled, The Social Dilemma. John and I had watched most of it. While some of the acting and storyline felt a tad over-dramaticized, the gist of the documentary was not lost on us. The internet, computers, and smartphones were all created, originally, to be used as tools–streamlining information, improving efficiency, easing communication, and so forth. However, as competition and the market grew, the tech companies began to figure out ways to create consumer-driven platforms designed to be addictive, track behavior, and target ads/influence. By picking up my phone without thinking and mindlessly scrolling through email, I had fallen prey to the attraction of the screen as this documentary pointed out.
Ugh, I had allowed my phone to control me. There was positively no need to pick up the phone in order to relax. Now, I was far from a relaxed mental state! So, what did I do? What any normal person would do, of course, reread both emails again! After a second reading, the words of the emails still struck the same negative chord, and I thankfully decided it was time to put away the phone and focus my attention elsewhere.
In the wake of those two emails, I fell asleep that night pondering why people make assumptions, especially negative assumptions, about others? Which then begged the question, why do I? After all, I can’t be self-righteous and not include my own behavior. As with so many big picture questions, I had to offer it up to Divine Providence and keep my heart and mind open to answer. It came later in the form of a novel for youth.
As I was reading a book my 6th grade students are currently reading, an elderly male character offers a long stick to a character who is a boy with severe anger issues. The elder asks the boy to break off the left side of the stick, and the boy does this. The man responds that the left side is still there, and he asks the boy to break it off.
This is again repeated until the exasperated youth finally says, “This is stupid. There will always be a left side.”
The older man retorts, “There will always be a left and right side to life.” The gentleman went on to explain that the young man will always have his anger and something for which to be angry, but likewise there will always be something for which to be happy or thankful. The choice was his, focus on the left side or the right of the stick–the choice was his every day and every moment.
Clearly, the writers of those letters were angry. Both had made assumptions and implications about my life or my behavior that were viewed through their own personal lens without spending a day, much less a week, walking in my shoes. Additionally, I had initially done the same thing–passing judgement on the senders of those emails.
However, in the light of a new day, I chose to focus on the right side of the stick. The first email, I decided not to answer because there was no sense in trying to defend my life and choices in a singular email to a person who doesn’t know me, much less live my life. If the person needs to have someone with which to focus his or her anger, I can be that left side of the stick for this unknown reader. I did, however, take time to respond thoughtfully and truthfully to the second, work-related email as I thought it was merely a misunderstanding.
Bottom line, I don’t live in the shoes of the senders of the email. I don’t know what life experiences have framed their thinking, much less what had happened within their life on the day they sent their emails. Perhaps they were simply having a bad day and only able to see the left side of the stick when they chose to write to me. I get it. I’ve been there, and if I am to be fully honest, I have focused on the left side of the stick quite often in my own life.
Just as screens have practically hardwired us to seek out their company with great frequency, humans also seem to be hardwired from an early age to seek out and focus on the negative. It takes work, effort, and energy to focus on the positive, to feel gratitude, and to feel happy just as it takes focused choices to put down, or step away, from screens.
I can’t always choose the path my shoes walk, as life is often full of curvy roads and unexpected hills and valleys, but I can choose to take care of my shoes, aka, my life, and regularly remind myself that there are, indeed, two sides to a stick. Thus, when I find myself focusing on the fact I can’t break off one side of the stick, I can choose to redirect my thoughts to focus on the other side, trusting that, when others try to cloud my way, I’ll put my faith in the fact that the shoes God gave me will lead me to the light.