Yesterday evening I returned to Louisville from spending several days at home with my parents in the far Western reaches of the state. It is not often that I get to go home and spend several days at a time with them. Usually, the visit is crammed into the space of a single weekend: down on a Friday night right after work, there all day Saturday, and back in the car after church on Sunday. After three years of making the commute, I know the way well: I-65 South to the Western Kentucky Parkway—a miserable 140 miles of barren nothingness—to I-24 to the Purchase Parkway. I never mind the 250 mile trek because I always know that when I arrive there will be hugs (usually extended, squeezing ones from my mom), two happy dogs who can’t wait to jump into my lap and smother me with kisses, and a large, southern-style dinner waiting on the table. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, family friends will be also there to join in on the Welcome Party. There’s something about Western Kentucky that helps me unwind—as though the moment you exit onto the Purchase Parkway, life slows and everything becomes simpler, easier.
After the initial welcome, when I am unpacking my bags in the guestroom, the usual flood of recollections enter my mind. Every aspect of this place is filled with the memories we’ve had ample time to create. The physical evidence is everywhere: in pictures of our childhood, our teenage years, high school graduations, proms and group pictures with friends and our extended family. Surrounded by the comfort of a happy past, I can feel the worry and the stress of my life begin to melt away. I slip my feet out of my shoes, symbolically beginning to let go.
There’s something to be said about going barefoot. (This in no way, shape or form reinforces the stereotype that Kentuckians don’t wear shoes. I can assure you, we do. That is not the point.) At some point in all of our lives, we must cast off our shoes and contend with ourselves in our natural form. No one curls onto the couch for a movie night wearing shoes, and we don’t sleep in shoes, for example. Whether we are enjoying the cool feel of green summer grass, the warm sensation of sand between our toes, or kicking and splashing our feet over the edge of a pool through blue, clear water—some of life’s most precious moments are lived out not in our tall heels or work loafers, but barefoot.
Parading about sans shoes can be incredibly wonderful. As a child, my younger brother and sister and I created all kinds of games and adventures in our yard and our house without them. On rainy spring afternoons, I love to curl up in a soft chair with a book and read—no shoes required. I remember standing in the middle of our yard one glorious summer evening when I was 17 in a summer dress, barefoot, and reaching up on tiptoe for my life’s most perfect kiss. And even now, when I sit across from my friends for heart-to-heart conversations that last for hours, it is the words we exchange that matter—not our shoes.
In a world where horns are honking, Blackberries are buzzing, deadlines are looming, reporters are calling, bills are arriving…a return to the simple, essential way of life is not only needed, it is necessary. When we are home, among the people whom we love the most and who love us unconditionally in return, we can ultimately shake off our shoes, let down our guard, relax and be ourselves. And these are the moments when I am convinced this is life in its most perfect form.
Inevitably, the relaxing, back-to-my-roots days must end, and I must return to the city. As I turn my car in the direction of the interstate, I do so with a sense of sadness—there is a pulling in my heart to turn back and let life be this way, always. Of course I know this is unrealistic. Life is waiting, and I must return to it.
Last night, as I set the cruise control and set my sight on the highway ahead, I glanced back in my rear view mirror to see a perfect sunset spread behind me. I had to smile as I slipped my feet out of my flip flops and allowed myself to be barefoot, just once more. We certainly can’t make these kinds of moments last forever, but—whenever we can—we should make them last just a little longer.