A few weeks ago, Compassion supported TOMS Shoes’ worldwide campaign called “A Day Without Shoes.”
The idea was for each of us to take off our shoes for 24 hours to learn what reality is like for the 300 million children around the world who don’t have a pair of shoes, to raise awareness for these young ones, and to encourage individuals to get involved — either by buying a pair of TOMS (for every pair you purchase, they give a pair of shoes to a child who doesn’t have any) or by providing shoes to a child directly.
How was my day without shoes?
I hated it.
You have no idea how badly I want to sugarcoat the experience. Not for you, but for me. I’m totally ashamed that I spent the day feeling so miserable. But miserable I was.
The day of the campaign brought a morning of intense rain, crazy wind, and tornado watches in northwest D.C. Inconvenient on a good day. But did I mention that I don’t have a car? And that it was cold? And that I was scheduled to go to a policy briefing with political and academic leaders?
I didn’t go.
Yes, that’s right. A hardcore professional with workaholic tendencies, I played hooky that morning. All because I didn’t want to walk in the rain and show up at a briefing in my suit and drenched, dirty feet. I thought it would make me look bad.
But it gets better. I managed to not leave my house until 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
What finally dragged me out the door? The rain had stopped and I desperately needed groceries. Stomachs are powerful influencers.
One other thing inspired me to go outside: people. Specifically, the people from all over the world who were manning up on a much grander scale than I was and posting stories of their experiences online.
- One lady went through airport security and traveled from the west to east coast, barefoot the entire time.
- One woman spoke of landing in her hometown in northern Canada and joyfully sprinting through the snow to make it home before her toes froze. (Joyfully was her word, not mine.)
- College kids shared about being harassed by professors and security personnel for not wearing shoes, and some were even getting kicked out of their classrooms for “lack of hygiene” or being “unsanitary.”
- A few people reported that they were denied access to grocery stories and other shops.
Everyone else seemed to be having the time of their life, so I decided I could make it half a mile to the grocery store.
Along the way, I realized something I should have remembered at the beginning of the day: I live in D.C. Most people are way too busy to notice that you might not be wearing shoes.
During the one-mile round-trip walk to the store and my time shopping inside, only one person noticed my feet — and this was a teenage girl who didn’t bother to ask me about it.
Maybe she was worried I would ask for money?
My initial fear of rejection and hypothermia out of the way, I grabbed my jacket and headed for the bus. I needed to trek across town for my small group that met that evening, and the metro stop I wanted to catch was two and a half miles away.
I waited for the bus for about 20 minutes. People definitely noticed my feet but no one said anything. I’m no germaphobe, but taking a public bus and a public metro rail in your bare feet will quickly change that. Where everyone else had walked that day was suddenly something I felt a need to speculate about in great detail.
I was annoyed that my feet were cold and wet from the rain. I was becoming increasingly paranoid that someone wouldn’t look where they were going and step on my feet. Mostly I was angry with myself for thinking that life without a car was a good idea, financial and urban-transit prudence aside.
I arrived across town in one piece, both feet still intact. Along the way I was a bit surprised to discover that escalators hurt your feet more than sticks and stones, and the mental trepidation of fearing that a 250-pound man will step on your foot is much worse than when it actually happens.
Armed with newfound faith in my ability to handle the streets with my feet a la carte, I picked my way around a winding sidewalk and across a large parking lot covered in gravel to the church where my group was meeting.
Ironically, the evening at church turned out to be the most difficult part of the day. Inside and warm, I was peppered with questions about why on earth I was walking around without shoes. As I energetically jumped into an explanation, I watched my friends’ faces take on that “We think you’re crazy but probably won’t say so out loud” expression.
I half expected, or maybe just hoped, that someone would offer me a ride home afterwards, but they all took one last look at my feet and disappeared one at a time without saying anything more.
It was a sobering moment for me, wondering how my own church (which I love and know is filled with people who love Jesus and actively live that out in their love for others) would respond to someone who walked in the door with bare, dirty feet.
The end of the day found me walking two and a half miles home from the return metro stop. It was a nice night but, inconveniently, one on which half the bus drivers apparently didn’t show up for work.
Fortunately, by then I was coming to terms with what it means to walk barefoot through a big city and I was no longer trying to come up with excuses for why it would be wise of me to stop by a shoe store on the way home.
I can’t say that my day without shoes had much of an impact on anyone else.
It did, however, have a very significant impact on me.
Every single worry I had? I only had to deal with it for a day.
But on a daily basis, with no end in sight and no reason to believe their reality will ever change, how many people do you suppose stay inside and can’t go to work on days filled with rain or storms because they don’t have a pair of shoes?
How many kids are refused access to school or to a grocery store? How many kids end up with diseases that kill or seriously threaten their health, all because of a disease or fungus they picked up while navigating the streets in their bare feet?
One day before, I’d had this funny illusion that since I owned only about 12 pairs of shoes, I was living the simple life.
I am astounded by how much I take for granted. And I’m determined that life doesn’t have to be like this forever.
I am making a commitment to not buy another pair of shoes unless I also buy a pair for a child who doesn’t have any. Care to join me?
“The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth. The opposite of poverty is enough.” –Wess Stafford