Sole Survivors

It was a rainy Saturday morning when I finished unpacking from a recent business trip. After jiggling open the sliding door to my closet, I desperately tried to find space for a new pair of shoes I had purchased.

No such luck. Every time I moved one dusty old box, another fell down.

“This is it!” I huffed out loud. “This is the day I give away all of my old shoes.”

The shoes I’m talking about were not just tattered–many of them no longer fit. Why was I saving them? I got my step stool and up into the nether regions of closet land I went.

The first box contained a pair of black satin high heels. They were my favorites eight years ago when they were new. I remember wearing them the night I attended a grand performance of Swan Lake by the Joffrey Ballet. My friends and I were able to go backstage and meet the dancers.

The next box held the silver-mesh heels with beaded flowers delicately draped across the front that I first wore to our youngest son’s bar mitzvah 12 years ago. As I closed my eyes, I could still hear his 13-year-old changing voice chanting.

Less glamorous were my workout shoes, all tattered and torn, but reminding me of exuberant aerobics classes at the gym. Each pair of shoes was like an old photo album carrying vivid pictures of treasured moments.

Five years ago when I moved from Los Angeles to Kaua’i, Hawaii, I brought all my shoes, knowing full well that many didn’t fit anymore (my feet seem to get wider with age). At the time, I didn’t know why I was taking them, but sitting on the edge of my bed, holding my black satin heels, I knew: I didn’t want to let go of the memories of parties, weddings, vacations, anniversaries.

I’d worn these shoes during some of the best years of my life. They were with me when, against the odds, I went back to school, got a Ph.D., wrote books, and built a private practice as a marriage, family and child counselor. It wasn’t just the accomplishments that were important. It was all the wonderful people who enriched each experience. By holding on to the shoes, I’d been trying to hold on to the memories. Even though moving to Kaua’i was a goal my husband and I worked hard to achieve, it seemed I was still spiritually linked to my 27 years in Los Angeles.

I took time to carefully dust off each pair of shoes and put them in a white plastic giveaway bag beside me. After placing the last pair inside, I twisted a wire tie around the top and reflected upon the importance of creating space in my life.

I realized that letting go of what no longer fits allows for experiences — and shoes — that fit the person I’ve become. Now my closet has room for new shoes to travel with me on the path ahead.