Thursday, March 31, 2011

                                   AND A CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM
                                 How a pair of old shoes touched my soul.        
            In the movie Shawshank Redemption, an inmate made good his escape by wearing the warden’s shoes, which prompted actor Morgan Freeman to ask “How often do you really look at a man’s shoes?”  For me the answer was never, until a young girl in discarded sneakers changed my point of view forever.
            I encountered her in a cavernous gym with gleaming wood floors, fancy retractable seats, and a parking lot filled with SUV’s. That’s how church league basketball was played south of the freeway.
            Her team arrived in an old station wagon, a coach and six black players from north of the Interstate, close yet a world away. Their opponents would be my daughter and her grade school teammates with their expensive basketball shoes and uniforms. The team from the north side had neither.
            Instead of NBA signature models, her shoes were low cut plaids with two eye rings. We called them boat shoes. Perhaps for a prior owner they’d matched a new outfit at a spring barbeque, or graced the deck of a sailboat on a breezy summer cruise. Now they were old and faded, the bottoms worn smooth. During warm ups our girls’ quick cuts to the basket squeaked on the hard wood. With each step the boat shoe girl struggled to avoid sliding to the floor.
            It was impossible not to notice, and she did. Etched in my memory is the look on her face as the differences hit home, more shame than envy. As a dad, I knew she wanted only what all young girls want, to look like everyone else. Thanks to us it was the one thing she couldn’t do. Stranded at mid court, nowhere to hide.
            I considered how my daughter might have reacted had the shoe been on the other foot. My hope was that she’d have been as brave.
            The boat shoe girl played her heart out. Every move was more difficult by half. My heart broke as I watched her try to wipe the dust from the bottoms of her shoes each time down the court. I pulled for her even as my daughter and her south side friends poured in the points.
            In the end her team capitulated, out manned and exhausted.  At the buzzer her coach gathered them around for his usual words of consolation. Then they headed north.  As she walked by I wanted to apologize for the dose of reality, to somehow make it up to her. But, I lacked the courage.
            So now, should the young lady in the boat shoes somehow magically read this column, all that’s left to say to her is thank you. No matter where you go or what you do, for this dad you’ll always be the little girl with the tattered shoes. The one who taught me the real meaning of step at a time.

Malcolm D. Gibson
Copyright 2011
All Rights Reserved


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