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Mary Jane shoes


On Saturday mornings, I teach community yoga at the Temple (I love this class so much). Those who attend vary in size, age, and flexibility; they are not focused on sporting the ‘right’ yoga clothes, or being seen with the most expensive mats; many in well-worn pajamas, stacking their fuzzy slippers by the door.
They come with their body-pain and heartache, their fear and hope.
Regardless of attire, they all show up with warm happy faces and willing, open hearts. No pretense. They are brave and human.

Because it’s a drop-in, donation-only class, attendance rotates. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of different students, and from that pool, there are almost always at least 30 peeps in class, some of whom are new each week.

One winter Saturday years ago, I’d cleared a path in the snow, from the parking lot to the temple entrance, for our class. Our upstairs classroom was in serious disrepair, which is not uncommon for this building. On that day, students arrived and planted themselves in the huge downstairs space I call ‘The Ballroom”. They’d organized themselves into a huge circle on the floor, plunking their coats and shoes beside their mats. During class, I noticed one new student’s sweet (and expensive) little Mary Jane shoes. When we spoke after class, I mentioned how much I liked her shoes.
She said, “Oh, these?”, and slipped one off her foot, using her toes to turn and slide it toward me, the gesture suggesting I try it on.
I slipped my foot into her shoe and, like magic, it fit beautifully.
I said, “Wow, these are really comfortable,” and then returned her shoe in the same way she’d passed it to me, using my foot to control the turn and slide.
She said, “I’ll return your shoes next week.”
I was stumped and said, “No, your shoes. Your shoes are comfortable.”
She pointed toward the exit and said, “It’s cold, and there’s snow on the ground, so I can’t really go home shoeless. I’ll return your shoes next week.”
I tried again to clarify, but she repeated that she’d return my shoes next time.
I didn’t know this woman, and she was obviously strangely confused. I let it drop and thanked her for attending. She warmly thanked me for the class and left.

The following week, class was readying to begin when a new student arrived. She was young and athletic, holding the base of a smallish brown paper bag in the palm of one hand, her other hand clutching the neatly folded top.
She approached and said, “This is for you”.
I opened the bag to find those perfect, little black Mary Janes nestled inside. I tried to express my confusion, and explain these were not my shoes, but she stopped me: “They’re from my mother. She’s an artist. Just take them. This is who she is.”

After class, I sat in my car with the bag on my lap, feeling giddy with this huge and poetic gift. What are shoes? Foundation. Protection. Grounding.

I never saw that woman or her daughter again. People express their appreciation and gratitude in so many ways. Her generosity in that moment has been such a lasting thing.
Weather permitting, I wore those shoes everyday for years, and felt her kindness support me.

Repaired repeatedly with glue, those well-worn shoes finally kicked the bucket. I can’t bring myself to toss them yet, so they remain by my front door, a daily reminder of love. I’ve scoured stores and the internet, looking for their replacement (hoping to find a duplicate pair – no success).  I really needed shoes, and tried on others, but felt committed to that style. Shoes are expensive and I won’t waste money on something that doesn’t feel right.  I’d been wearing boots a sweet friend gave me, but let’s be practical: It’s getting awfully warm outside, and snuggly (perfect!) winter boots are not an option. As I’m writing this, I realized something: The other pair of shoes I own, and love, are sandals that my dearest friend passed down to me (there seems to be a pattern here, huh?).

Last week, the day before my divorce was finalized, I discovered a pair of similar, comfortable little Mary Jane shoes in a local store (on clearance!).  I’ve managed to find my own footing.