Learning to Let Go

My journey through the twenties is ultimately a quest to establish a lasting union between my cliché love of pink, glittery giggles and my mind’s ongoing search for meaningful, intellectual nuggets. Every now and then, I stumble upon a point in time in which the two collide. With enough of these collisions, I believe I’m bound to reach a lasting state of nirvana. This past week, the girly girl in me coalesced with the pensive ponderer and the end result was valuable life lessons learned on materialism, loss, and recovery. This fleeting moment of awakening came through nothing less than an object I hold near and dear to my heart — shoes.

There’s a reason the saying is, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes,” and not his jacket, pants, or mittens. (Also, for twenty-first century purposes, I’d also like to offer, “Don’t judge a woman until you’ve walked/stomped/danced/ran/pranced/persevered in her sandals/stilettos/boots/flats/sneakers.”) Shoes are not just shoes. Shoes are where you take them. They’re what you set out to do in them. They’re about why the soles are worn and the leather is scuffed. They’re how you leave through the door, but so much of how you enter the room. They’re the storytellers of where you’ve been, where you are, and, baby, where you’re bound to be heading.

I have a couple pairs of shoes that are many moons beyond their wearable days. They’re dirty, torn, lopsided, and faded. But I haven’t thrown them out. I just can’t bear to because they bring back so many moments in time that are juicy with emotion and rich with adventure.

I spent the summer of 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia, and I brought with me a pair of heels that will forever live in my “favorites of all time” category. They were gray stilettos and I loved them because they were both powerful and comfortable. You don’t often find a pair of stilettos that are truly, honestly cushioned and wide enough and like you’re wearing slippers on stilts (almost). I loved them because they were so easy to dress up, but so exciting to dress down. I bought them at a store that today ceases to exist.

That summer, I was interning at The Carter Center and couldn’t wait to wear those perfect heels for the day we had our photos taken with President and Mrs. Carter. However, just a few days before picture day, my beloved heels caught an uneven crack in the sidewalk as a group of us were walking to eat lunch. Sometimes in life you lose your balance, but you know you’re just going to stumble. Other times, you know immediately that you are to collapse full force onto the ground. This was one of those “other times,” and as I descended, the watermelon I was carrying for lunch soon also found its way across the pavement. I sat for a moment in the dejected space between laughing and crying before I got back up to the sound of chuckling fellow interns. Instinctively, I looked down to assess any damage my cherished heels may have incurred. My heart sank, quickly realizing they were ruined for good.

Now in need of dress shoes for the photo session with the Carters, I headed off with my friend to DSW, also known as shoe heaven. I searched and searched for a shoe to replace those I had lost, but everything I saw I just compared to what I had known. Then, one pair of funky looking heels unexpectedly beckoned me near. On these shoes (that were far from my style) was a pink tag with writing on it. The message read:

If you love it, let it go…

These shoes are handmade with love just for you by Zigi. Zigi shoes love you, but just like many things you have loved, parts may change or leave you some day. That doesn’t mean they don’t love you, it just means they have a different path in life. Dry your tears and put a smile on your face, Zigi will always be there to help make you the superstar you are.

love always, Zigi

That, my friends, is how a company sells a distraught 20-something a pair of shoes. I had been so upset over my heels, but the message that came to me through this new pair had left me with valuable knowledge. I saved that tag and it still lives in my wallet today as a reminder when I need it.

However, the true test as to whether you’ve learned anything from an event is how you respond in the chance it is repeated. No, I didn’t have another epic tumble to the ground in fancy heels, but I did lose another cherished pair of story-stocked shoes and I had to decide how I was going to respond to it.

One night during my freshman year of college, another girl from my dorm floor and I sat on our laptops searching for the shoessame treasured item. Fervent Oregon Duck fans, we both coveted a pair of Nike Air Zoom Hayward shoes. They were just the right shades of green, yellow, and loud, and on the inside even had printed a famous quote from Duck track legend, Steve Prefontaine: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” For the many basketball courts we would rush, for the cold mornings we would camp out in front of Autzen Stadium, we longed to wear our pride on our shoes. After tireless searching, we eventually both found our sizes online and eagerly awaited their arrival in the mail.

When the shoes arrived, it was love at first sight. I knew I never wanted to let them go. On top of being some of the flyest shoes to ever grace this earth, they were gloriously comfortable. I’m not a runner by any means, but if I was, I’d choose no other shoe. Over the next five years, I enjoyed soaking in the love I received from other Duck fans when they’d see my shoes. I was wearing the shoes when I traveled with two of my friends to Spokane, Washington to see our basketball team compete in March Madness. These were the shoes in which I walked on the sacred turf field of Autzen Stadium. The shoes were on my feet in historic McArthur Court when I watched alongside hundreds of other fans as our football team played in the National Championship game. The shoes hum with every cheer, each verse of the fight song. They pulse with the jumps of excitement and the hugs of best friends after both victory and loss. They hold many fond memories, to say the least.

After moving to the D.C. suburbs of Maryland, I soon became aware of the fact that several of my shoes were falling apart. The soles were separating from the bottoms of some, while others displayed various deteriorating material. I was so confused, and so hurt. I couldn’t understand why they were all deciding to fall apart on me at the same time. They really weren’t even that old or that worn. They couldn’t all be made so cheaply, could they? As I held the pair of heels I wore for my thesis defense in my hands, their soles shrunken and detached, I decided it was Maryland’s fault. I was hating my past job, I was sick of the summer heat and humidity, so it made perfect sense to me that, like myself at the time, my shoes just hated Maryland. They were acting out. They longed for California air. I was convinced. And I was angry. However, life went on and I tried not to dwell too much about a couple pairs of shoes. In fact, I mostly put this misfortune out of my mind completely. That is, until just this past week.

In attempt to ward off “desk lady syndrome,” I recently joined a gym. I was excited to go work out, and even more excited to represent the University of Oregon by wearing my Haywards to do so. I pulled them out of the closet and put the left one on first. It was beautiful. I smiled, remembering all of our good times and seeing how far I had come since we first met. Then, I went to go put on the right shoe. I think my heart stopped for a minute at this point. There were about five or so minutes I just can’t remember. My right shoe was completely deformed. The once cushy sole was now hard and shrunken with some of its details on the brink of detaching. The insole had also shrunken to the size of a strip of bacon. I couldn’t even make out Pre’s quote anymore. In denial, I attempted to put the shoe on regardless. It was so tight and when I looked down at my two feet, it didn’t even look like I was wearing the same shoe on each foot.

I sat on my bedroom floor for a while, just sad. Then my sadness turned into anger. I returned to blaming Maryland. The shoes were hard enough to find my freshman year; I knew they would no longer be sold anywhere. Five years of memories were disintegrating before my very eyes. Needless to say, I had forgotten in this moment to remember the lessons I obtained during the great fall of 2010.

“If you love it, let it go… parts may change or leave you some day. That doesn’t mean they don’t love you, it just means they have a different path in life…”

They were so much more than just shoes! How could they be ruined? I felt like my whole day was ruined! My memories were gone! Woe was me! Great sadness!

His Holiness The Dalai Lama often remarks on materialism, mostly in relationship to happiness — true happiness. “We pay too much concern to material things and neglect our inner resources,” he was once quoted. I thought of his teachings on material possessions, as my eyes wandered to the Tibetan prayer flags above my window and I remained seated in great dismay on the floor. The true beauty of the shoes, the happiness I believed them to bring me, was not in the shoes at all. I had already stored that happiness and beauty as an inner resource. The shoes weren’t the shoes, but rather the experiences they brought me that had shaped me internally. I couldn’t lose those experiences just because the shoes were no longer functional.

Shoes are more than shoes, I thought, but the truth is that they are also just shoes, and they’re a chance to learn how to let go. As I began to allow myself to let go of the shoes, it felt like a domino chain of wisdom had been initiated. Not only was I learning how to let go and how happiness is stored internally, not in material possessions, but I was also unexpectedly faced with repentance and the powerful force of forgiveness. Everything became clear. It wasn’t Maryland’s fault after all, and I had to let go of that bitterness.

When I moved across the country, it took six days of driving. During those six days, my shoes were all packed away in one of those long shoe holders you can hang in a closet. That holder was wedged right up against my rear car window, left to survive the direct beaming rays of a hot summer sun for six whole days. I had to forgive myself. I had to release my misdirected anger toward the state of Maryland. I had to accept what was and move on.

It hurts to lose something you love, but it is possible to let go, to keep moving, and to love again — For the shoes I lost allowed me to put on my new shoes, my new perspective.

R.I.P. Nike Air Zoom Haywards (December 2006 — January 2012)

Hey, I put some new shoes on, And suddenly everything is right. I said, hey, I put some new shoes on and everybody’s smiling. It’s so inviting, Oh, short on money, But long on time. Slowly strolling in the sweet sunshine, And I’m running late. And I don’t need an excuse, ’cause I’m wearing my brand new shoes.

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