I once hiked four miles without shoes. I knew when I bought those damn things the day before the hike, there would not be enough time to sufficiently break them in. I knew the likelihood of foot blisters was imminent. Style over comfort was a ridiculous choice, but I bought them anyway because they really were great-looking shoes.
I wasn't but twenty minutes on the trail when I felt the first twinge of shoe gnawing against skin on the top of one my toes. I did my best to ignore it and I did for awhile until another toe began to ache. Emotional suffering I can handle for years, but when it comes to enduring physical pain I am a wimp. Make it go away. Grab the drugs. I don't want to feel it. And so I tried to craft a band-aid made out of leaves, figuring it would be better to rub against some plant life than a man-made synthetic. I don't know why I wasn't wearing socks. It's quite possible I'm a sadomasochist, but it's more likely I'm just stupid when it comes to being a well-prepared hiker. The leaves didn't work, but Mother Nature worked her magic on me.
My husband tried to be my hero by offering me his shoes, but I declined knowing the damage had already been done - any shoe was going to cause me and my feet grief. He also suggested we turn back and save the trail for another day. Absolutely not.
"I'll just hike this thing barefoot," I said. And so I did.
Despite the trail being slick as snot from the morning rain and littered with rocks to torment my tender feet, it turned out to be a brilliant decision. I felt unencumbered, lighter, agile. I had to be more cautious where I stepped, but that made me more aware of my choices. How would I move my body to meet the changing textures of the trail? How would it feel when squishy mud met smooth-surfaced feet? The planned fast-paced hike would now need to become a slow meander. What I saw on the trail and how I experienced the hike was dramatically changed when I took those damn shoes off.
This barefoot hike took place nine months ago. At that time, I had no idea my life would significantly change seven weeks later. I didn't know I would fall ill with the flu for a week. I didn't know my husband would betray my trust. I didn't know I would lose my sense of smell and taste for six months. I didn't know anger and sadness would become my closest companions for awhile. I didn't know I would feel lost and so alone. I didn't know patience was the biggest lesson the universe would serve me over and over again. I didn't know I would begin to write a book on forgiveness.
Since then, I've been walking towards the rest of my life every day. I have no idea how long I get to be here. I have no idea what happens next. I could try and guess or I could accept the truth that not knowing is one of the greatest gifts of living. The rest of my life isn't waiting up ahead on the trail. It's right where I'm stepping in every given moment.
I do know this...I haven't worn those shoes since.