For My Tennis Shoes

If there’s anything we’ve established thus far on The Daily Shoe, it’s this: I love to love. (See “The Dance”). For one, I love to love shoes (Shocker!) I also love to love running. On any given day of the week, when evening schedules are cleared, no work engagements are pending and no friends are calling, you can rest assured I’m plodding my way through the Highlands and Cherokee or Seneca Parks (occasionally all three.)

Anyone who knows me is aware of this hobby-turned-obsession-turned-way-of-life. And while I’ll rough it out in the summer heat, a cool spring or autumn evening spent in my running shoes on an open road are enough to make my spirits soar and put me in a state of near-ecstasy.

I’ve often tried to explain this love of running to others. Simply running a mile or two isn't adequate, since it takes the second or third mile for your body to find its rhythm and everything is working together in a fluid motion. As soon as you find this rhythm, your strength comes not from your legs or feet, but from your inner-most core. The further you run, the more you can feel your body reaching deep down inside for every ounce of strength it can muster. The end result is the release of the ever-beloved endorphin. All said, running can become a bit of an addiction. (An addiction that just so happens to lend itself to weight loss, improved cardiovascular and bone health, and better coordination.) 

I was not always this way. For one, I’m not built to be the ideal runner. I inherited my mother’s petite size and my father’s rather stocky build. As a child, my parents let me make my attempt in softball and basketball—both endeavors that I’d rather not remember or discuss. Around my sophomore year of high school I finally figured out that while I couldn’t quite master the art of hand-eye/moving-target coordination, I could maneuver from point A to point B at a fairly quick pace. Through years of running, I’ve managed to overcome the less-than-ideal physical build.

Running is not always a bed of roses. It can, in fact, be very painful. A year and a half ago, I was plagued by a pretty miserable case of plantars fasciitis that shut me down for months; my knees are all but done for; and I have the occasional hip trouble.

In spite of the pain, I have found that finding my own rhythm and tapping into that inner core strength allows my mind to be completely clear of the worries, anxieties and fears that follow me around on a daily basis. It's why I return to the routes I know so well, night after night. Along those paths and roadways, I am free: free to enjoy my favorite music, free to think, free to pray.

In a metaphorical sense, there’s more to running than the physical effort. When you're running, you're headed somewhere, and you have a goal in mind.

In the back of my mind, I have this idea of who I want to be and the direction I want my life to go. I’d imagine it is the same for you too, Reader. At the same time, I’ve never been a very good planner. I don’t exactly have a theory on how to get to this “ideal self,” what to do when I arrive, or what happens after. But when I run, I feel as though I'm getting one step closer.

In recent weeks, I’ve come to a rather startling and delightful realization: I’ve never been happier than I am right now. Is it possible that I could someday attain them?  And while I may never achieve my personal idea of perfection (because, that always changes as we go, doesn't it?) this life I am living has every glimmer of what I always dreamed it might be and more.
It's wonderful to be reminded of this, especially on days when I feel confused, stressed and overwhelmed or when I fear that the pace of life has passed me by.
My tennis shoes (my trusted, supportive companions) will always be there waiting by the door. When I do not know what else to do...I'll cling to the thing I know best: an open road, the sound of my feet on the pavement, a sweat on my brow and the understanding that life is moving forward, and I am moving forward with it.  
"Out of the silver heat mirage he ran. The sky burned, and under him the paving was a black mirror reflecting sun-fire. Sweat sprayed his skin with each foot strike so that he ran in a hot mist of his own creation. With each slap on the softened asphalt, his soles absorbed heat that rose through his arches and ankles and the stems of his shins. It was a carnival of pain, but he loved each stride because running distilled him to his essence and the heat hastened this distillation." - James Tabor, from "The Runner.”


"Call Me Jax"

“My friends call me Jax. You may do the same.”

When I was a very little girl, I woke up one morning right before daybreak to a room flooded with hazy, blue light. In the calm of that light, a feeling of peace  washed over me. I could smell the scent of coffee and hear my father playing guitar a few rooms away. In that moment, I fell in love with this time of day. I was safe. The people I loved and who loved me the most were near. And any potential harm was a thousand miles away.

To this day, I love the rare mornings when I wake up right before the dawn to the most perfect blue light pouring in the windows of my apartment. I have no where to be; there are no deadlines pressing down upon me, not a care in the world.

I awoke to just such a morning a little more than 22 years ago on the day my baby sister arrived. That afternoon, little me in a summer smock jumped and screamed with delight with the news:“It’s a girl, it’s a girl, it’s a girl!”

I think about that day a lot. Especially as of late, as I have watched that tiny baby girl grow into a little lady.

There is an astonishing amount of love, coupled with an astonishing amount of envy that goes into sisterhood. My sister is astounding, in both the positive and the negative sense of the word. She can be both endearing and maddening in the same breath. She knows how to push all my buttons and possesses the ability send me into the kind of rage only a sister can produce. And still…she is amazing.

Little Jaclyn is everything that I am not. We love entirely different kinds of shoes: she cannot manage to walk in my heels, and I cannot fathom the flats she loves to wear. I came into the world brunette, blue and mad (the product of an emergency C-section) while Jaclyn greeted us all with blonde, rosy cheer. That never changed. She never meets a stranger. She loves people. And people love her.

I think the quality I love the most about my sister is her beautiful heart. I’ve never met someone so kind or giving of their time. This is the child who gave up her summers to help a little boy with muscular dystrophy, who dealt with feeding tubes and other medical devices during another summer vacation so children with severe disabilities could play like other children, and who would prefer to spend her time caring for a 90-year-old woman back home more than she would care to party with her friends or schoolmates. And, as an added bonus, she is breathtakingly beautiful.

In life, we certainly make our mark on people. But there are those who make their mark on us. And so it is with Jaclyn. I learn from her everyday. And deep down, I pray for a heart that mimics hers.

When she entered college, “Jaclyn” evolved into “Jax”…and so she is commonly called around her soon-to-be Alma Mater. As I’ve watched her grow, my admiration for her increases. And I will admit: this admiration is shadowed by a little bit of fear: Fear that she will get it right. Fear she will succeed where I have failed. Fear that someday she will see straight through me.

That’s the trouble with being the elder sibling. You get to watch those who come behind you experience the moments you’ve already lived. You get to watch with nostalgia and an understanding of what you would have done differently.

A few nights ago, little Jax called from the beach to tell me she’s in love and moving to Florida and getting married. (Now, mind you, this is the fourth time this year she and I have had this conversation.) But, in truth, this is what I want for her:  I hope that her life may be full of laughter where mine was marked by tears. I hope that heartbreak will never find her (and even though it has, that her memory of the experience will be short lived.) I hope that all of her dreams do come true. I hope that she won’t regret…and that when she does, she will find the strength to move on boldly, with confidence.

I do not know if my sister has ever woken to the same kind of blue, hazy morning that occurred the day she arrived in our world. Some experiences and some memories are our own to take and to keep. But, if she takes anything with her from this life—I hope this it will be among them: The people who love her the most are near. And as long as we are, any kind potential of harm is a thousand miles away.


The Perfect Shoe

Someday, I’m going to slip my feet into the most beautiful, perfect pair of Manolo Blahniks, and my life is going to change.

In the photo albums, picture frames, drawers and coffee tables that contain the memorabilia of my life exists the world’s most beautiful picture. At least it is in my opinion. I remember where I stood, what I was thinking, and what I felt when I took it.

It was 2002, the night before my junior prom. A smaller, skinnier version of me (with long, straight hair that nearly reached to the middle of my back) was leaning against the frame of the doorway between the dining and living room, holding my head at an angle as I watched my whole world strum the strings of a guitar a few feet away from me. He was wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, the muscles in his arms clearly defined as he played a song he wrote—my song.

As I watched in adoration, I reached for a nearby camera (filled with black-and-white film) and captured the moment forever. He heard the sound of the camera and looked over at me and smiled. My mother always said he had a Humphrey Bogart smile (if Bogart had ever smiled). And she was right.

I never know when I’m going to come across that picture: a profiled picture of a beautiful boy and his guitar. I never could bring myself to throw it away. I loved it then. And I love it still. From time to time, it appears in a drawer, a notebook, or a random folder, and my life freezes. I stop and sit down on a couch or a chair, and a wave of “could have, should haves, would haves” wash over me.

While there are experiences that I will openly talk about—whether good or bad—and even embrace, I rarely talk about the years between 1998 and 2004. I’ve learned to tuck those memories away in a little corner of my mind and I’ve learned to forget what it felt like to love someone so much you felt you could stop the wind if you wanted to.

But, on very rare occasions I will go to that corner of my mind and revisit those times, just like a collection of pictures. Sometimes, it feels necessary to examine them for what they are and for what they were. But regardless, they always end with the same recollections, faded by time and tears: a dimly lit hallway on a late summer’s night years later where I leaned, crumpled, against a wall and looked at him with pleading eyes, “Please don’t break my heart.” And finally, some of the last words he ever said to me, which were uttered over a telephone: “I love you, but I decided to marry someone else.”

To this day, I have never heard the lyrics of my song. I cannot remember what it even sounded like. I always believed he would finally sing them to me at our wedding…the wedding that would and will never be. I hear that he is happy. Sometimes I get a random snippet of news about his life, and a little twinge of pain burns in my chest. Other times, any news bounces off of me because I feel nothing. Sometimes, what happened between us just makes me feel numb.

But I have to remain optimistic. Like a pretty, expensive pair of shoes, there are relationships you may want with all of your heart but you just can’t have. And if you do want them bad enough to pursue them…it will cost you. Like my picture, sometimes our choices in life are clearly outlined in black and white.

So, every morning I slip my feet into my pretty, relatively inexpensive shoes and I set out into an imperfect world with all the optimism a starry-eyed little Cancerian can muster. Among the city lights and the whirl-wind of life that exists all around me, I know my future, my destiny, my “perfect shoe” is waiting. And I know and I believe, that eventually, I will find it.

Someday, I’m going to slip my feet into a pair of Manolo Blahniks—the most perfect,exquisite most perfect shoe—and my life is going to change. But until that day comes—the day when a $685 pair of shoes won’t reduce me to a buyers-remorse-induced-depression—the shoes I have will do the job. And I’m one happy, blessed girl.