Sharing this piece I wrote for my writing group. 🙂
We’re given a visual prompt: a pair of well-worn shoes on the bottom of a shoe rack at a fitness studio that have been there for the past month. My guess is they were left by someone who came for a class in mid to late February when it was either icy, snowy, or wet outside. They slipped them off, tucked them on the bottom shelf before putting on a pair of clean indoor shoes, and left without putting them back on.
So, what’s the story here? What was on this person’s mind that preoccupied them to the extent that they forgot about their shoes? Was something big going on in their life outside of the studio or was it more ordinary, like a conversation with someone on the way out of the class? Maybe they were in a hurry to get to an appointment, or perhaps they were meeting someone. But why have they not returned? That’s the real mystery, isn’t it? Did they forget where they left the pair of shoes? Or decide they were too tattered to worry about? Did they have an epiphany and subsequently set out on a personal pilgrimage? Had they taken sick and not been able to come back to class? Did they die?
Of all the possibilities, the epiphany and personal pilgrimage option intrigues me the most. Haven’t you wondered what it would be like to listen to that little voice inside telling you to walk away and start over again, or experienced one of those “ah ha” moments that caused everything you thought you knew to be turned upside down—or maybe right side up? It happened to me fairly often when I was winding down my career and growing more tired by the day of giving the best of myself to a corporation. During endless meetings about things that never seemed to get resolved or regarding top secret projects with code names like Compass or Toto—I fantasized about packing it all up and moving to a little hobby farm where we could, if not go off-grid, at least embrace a more self-sufficient lifestyle.
Early one spring, my husband and I drove from where we lived in western Washington to Kipling, Saskatchewan, to look at 160 acres and consider a dream. We called it Manderley, and sometimes I still think about that little farm and the life we almost stepped into.
It was March the first time we visited. I stood in the yard under a low fog that blanketed the prairie like a soft and comfortable cotton quilt, breathing deep and feeding a piece of myself that had been starving. I heard the land whisper to me in silence that was such a contrast to our life back in Washington where the pace of urban life had lost its charm. Things that once seemed to define success no longer seemed important to me. I was restless and felt a call to something more meaningful. There was a Linda I barely knew anymore, and I missed her.
The house itself was dated, but there was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with paint and a bit of remodeling. Weathered outbuildings in the yard stood strong after years of service to generations of the family that had originally homesteaded the land, joined now by a silver Quonset and a trio of silver granaries. Snow still covered the quarter section. I was smitten.
The next time we visited it was April and a marsh and the trees were alive with the sound of birds, frogs, and ducks. Gone was the quiet of winter, but the cacophony of nature was just as nourishing to my starving self. A huge garden area behind the house, sheltered from the wind by a row of trees, bore evidence of last year’s harvest. A homemade greenhouse stood waiting for a fresh batch of seedlings to fill its shelves. An old, no longer used outhouse added character to the space.
The current owner, who had lived there since she married the farmer whose family it belonged to, pointed out to me the hotbed where she’d normally be starting lettuce by now if she and her husband hadn’t moved into town over the winter. She told me about early life here and pointed out the location of the original house that has long since been torn down. History of the land came alive as she spoke. But, in the end, Manderley was not meant to be ours. It would be four more years before I retired early and walked away from corporate life; twelve until we returned to the prairie to live, not on a farm, but in the hometown my family had left a half-century earlier.
But, what about those shoes? And the possibility of personal epiphany? And what of the dreams that the sight of an ordinary pair of forgotten shoes can surface? As it is with all our lives, dreams rarely turn out exactly the way we expect them to. There are forks in the road, deep potholes (especially here in Moose Jaw!), course changes, valleys of grief, and mountaintops of elation. It is the eclectic combination of all these things that forms the texture and colour of one’s life. And once in a while, we reach a point where something inside tells us to leave the old dirty, and tattered shoes behind, take the risk, and step forward into whatever it is that is calling us.
Oh Linda, I so enjoyed this. Related to it in many instances, and to one line especially: ‘growing more tired by the day of giving the best of myself to a corporation’. I found that to be true in my own life, a long time ago now. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful look at shoes, personal epiphanies, and possible dreams. I loved following your thoughts. Thank you.
Thank you for your kind words, Brenda. xo