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Big Shoes to Fill
Big Shoes to Fill

"Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?"
—James Weldon Johnson, "Lift Every Voice and Sing"

It baffles me how my kids are just fine running around with no shoes on; rocks and dirt and sticks and grime all adhere to their feet. I wear my shoes from the time I wake up until I climb in the bed at night. They may not be my daily running-around shoes, but something is always on my feet. It drives me up the wall to see my kids barefoot, but I keep my mouth shut.

I read articles about how it’s not good to walk around the house with the shoes you wear outside, or how it’s healthy to be without the constraints of shoes on little feet. I’ve also read about diseases that find their way into your body and bloodstream through cuts and sores on your feet. I realize that both can be right or wrong. I refuse to walk around barefoot — but I also refuse to dictate whether or not my children do.

My dad wore shoes. He grew up in rural Georgia, where shoes were a sign of wealth. The population of the town: 500. Most were farmers who couldn’t afford shoes for all of their children. My grandfather did well as a farmer and even had several sharecroppers. If he had enough money for all seven, eight, nine, or whatever number of his children to wear shoes, then they were going to wear them. And don’t let him catch you without them on!

That mentality stuck with my father: if he could afford to buy us shoes, then we best have them on. So I never take mine off, not because they’re some type of status symbol, but because I’m used to it. In an odd way, it makes me feel closer to my dad who passed away many years ago.

I look at their bare feet, and my shoes, and remember that it’s okay to let go. Just because something was a certain way for many years doesn’t mean we have to continue. Traditions and habits can be changed or broken and that’s not always bad. It doesn’t mean we didn’t learn or like what we did in the past, it just means that we moved on to something else and that’s okay too. I appreciate the path that my grandfather paved but also recognize that I can start or add to his path in my own way and still honor the road he paved the way for.

Prayer
Spirit of life, may we never forget the road our ancestors paved for us. May we honor and uplift them. May we also remember that we too will one day be ancestors to those generations that follow. And may they be proud of, and honored by, the road we have paved for them, whether or not they choose to follow it.

About the Author

  • Rayla D. Mattson serves as the Director of Religious Education for the Unitarian Society of Hartford (Connecticut). Outside of congregational life, she is raising her three beautiful children as a single mom.

For more information contact braverwiser@uua.org.

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