I love the old joke: “don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Then, you’re a mile away, and you’ve got their shoes”.
And I always thought I was GREAT at walking in other people’s shoes. Stilettos to flip-flops, I was convinced I could pull off any amount of shoe-compassion. I thought I was so empathetic. “Oh, yes, I know exactly how you feel” (emote emote). “I know exactly where you’re coming from,” (nod nod nod). I was so sure I could understand completely how everyone felt.
But now I realise that walking a mile in another person’s shoes, on certain roads, is pretty much impossible. The more extreme experiences of life – bereavement, chronic illness, child-birth, divorce — warp-speed you into an invisible box which no amount of empathy can penetrate. A person can’t pretend to walk in those shoes — they only fit when you’ve done it for real.
I think it’s why I spend so much time sharing odd titbits of personal information with strangers. I’m trying to find people who know how it feels. To the woman on the bench in W Park “I walked into the bathroom yesterday and found Mini sucking on one of my disposable razors. They get their hands on everything don’t they?” (Don’t they???). To the owner of the WP Cafe “No, I can’t take my hat off as I haven’t had a shower in six days. I’ve been hoping that a flannel rub, some right-guard spraying and a bobble-hat will do the same job. I bet most mums say that to you, right?”
I’m waiting for someone to reply “oh yes, when I was bringing up my children by myself I regularly had to extract sharpened knives from their grasp. And I once went six WEEKS without a wash. Don’t worry!”
I’m just trying to loosen my shoes a little — have someone else try them on and let me know how I’m doing.
(This post is dedicated to the kindly minister [from many years ago] who told me that God always understands how I feel as he came and lived as a man, and experienced everything I can experience. Male, Jewish, celibate, childless, poor, perfect. Not sure the sandals fit quite so easily. Though, even as I write this, I’m reminded of Psalm 139, which shows how God really does know my shoe-size… http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+139)