Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The 30 Day Photo Challenge: Day 12, One Day Without Shoes Edition

Day 12: A Picture of Your Feet
Today’s prompt was picked with a very particular reasoning in mind; today, April 5, 2011, is the One Day Without Shoes event sponsored by TOMS Shoes. On this day across the globe people are taking one day, as they are able, to go about their lives while taking a stance against poverty. We are doing this by spending one day without shoes, socks, or any kind of protective footwear.

This is my first year participating fully, because it’s the first year I wouldn’t be breaking any school rules by going barefoot whilst carrying out my daily routine. I’m writing this post around 1:00 PM, which means I have now spent about 6 ½ hours sans sneakers. Let me tell you, friends, I am learning a whole lot.

While to some degree I do think this day is a tool by which TOMS Shoes can get super-prime advertising, the movement itself is something I think worthy of consideration and participation (obviously). It has already challenged me physically and mentally to remember how blessed and fortunate I am that, at the end of today, I will go home to a closet full of shoes, socks, and band-aids for the blisters. In many ways today’s events remind me of the other day-long movement I try to partake in every year: Day of Silence.

The Day of Silence as an act is pretty self-explanatory: on one pre-assigned day every year we are asked, as we are able, to take one day to remain silent. This act is to protest anti-LGBTQ bullying and harrasment across the United States and to remember the gift it is to be able to use our voices, and to be heard. On this event every year, I always endure people saying to me “but you know, I don’t think being silent on an issue makes a difference. I didn’t notice you being quiet,” to which I always want to reply “Well one, yes you did notice, because you’re telling me why you don’t like this day; and two, this is also an internal process. For me, it is more a reminder to use my voice whenever possible because I can without threat but also to take time to reflect on how best I can vocalize my beliefs in an empowering manner without sounding condescending.”

However, whatever attention Day of Silence does or does not receive, going one day without shoes had certainly garnered some attention.

This morning, as I packed my backpack for the day and headed out the door to brave the weather barefoot I contemplated what sort of reactions I would have. Quite literally the moment I stepped outside I knew. The women I passed all had a mix of reactions; some did not notice, some glared, but most looked at my feet and then avoided all eye contact (of the people whom I did not know).

Perhaps they thought I was so preoccupied with my thoughts that I forgot to put on shoes (Einstein was famous for this, you know[1]). Others might have presumed I was communing with the linoleum to speak to the earth, which, considering how common it is to see women wearing capes on this campus, is not a wholly unjustified supposition. Maybe some knew about the event. Maybe they just thought I was weird.

Whatever they thought, most would look at me questioningly without actually asking where on God’s green earth I had left my footwear. And trust me on this one, friends, but when I stepped outside to walk to class this morning I asked myself the same question.

Because there has been torrential rain pouring down all day long. So not only was I shoe-less walking on the painful pavement to class, I was shoe-less on the painful FREEZING COLD pavement. I’m still getting feeling back in my toes.

And this made me think about how we perceive poverty.

Poverty is not wholly naked pot-bellied children in refugee camps, as so many National Geographic cover stories would have us believe. Yes, that is real. I’ve seen it; I’ve been to Pabo and Gulu, Northern Uganda. I will be living there this summer. But the nakedness, the hunger is not all that these children- or peoples, or nations- are. Dually, poverty is not restrained continentally or culturally.

There is poverty right here, right now in America. Mere miles away from my Ivory Tower is Holyoke, MA, the heroin center of the USA. Subsequently, it is one of the most destitute and dangerous places in the country. In my hometown there was an ever-increasing homeless population.

When I am still the subject of many a grossed out glare that quickly shifs to avoid eye contact, I am learning so much from them. This morning, for one split second, I think I understood what it means to be so shunned as a homeless or impoverished member of a community. To have been reduced to begging for money, while we walk past muttering how the homeless should get a job, disregarding their circumstances that led them to this point.

The difference is for me this lasted one tiny second whilst I was piling my plate with toast to eat in a building I call home. That difference is the distinction of worlds, realities. 

There are marvelous people in the world fighting to end homelessness; I have friends who organized bi-weekly trips to the soup kitchen to cook for those in our town who needed a meal; my family has gone on Habitat for Humanity builds; the list is ever-growing. Those are commendable and important jobs.

But how do we rethink poverty? Where do we begin to realize it can exist in the littlest of things, the basic necessities like food and clothing and shelter and love.
After all, there are all kinds of poverty. Poverty of the soul, to me, is far worse than poverty of the material

But do we not need the material to survive? To eat, to sleep, to carry onward?
When I was wrangling over nonviolence for my Religion paper a few weeks ago I read and re-read Chapter 10 from the Gosepl of Matthew, taken from the Christian Testament.

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[b] 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (TNIV)

A theme that has persisted in this class has been the idea of the body being separate from the soul. In this passage, Christ makes it pretty plain that Christians should “not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” which makes plain the distinction between the two entities. Yet the body is obviously of consequence, for “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” In this vein, the body is sacred but second to the soul, but in order to achieve freedom (in whatever religious definition of Nirvana, heaven, rebirth…) humanity is called upon to endure torture to raise conscious thought of the persecutors.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then, they will have my dead body. Not my obedience.” Again, even in another religious (but equally valid) context, the soul is prized higher than the physical realm. It is through the suffering of the body in the face of oppression, however, that freedom is found.

Which is why what is done to our bodies matters, and why today- a day spent without shoes, has been so important to me.

Because at the end of the day (though it is not yet over, believe you me) this movement is not about how much the cold rain hurt my feet, or how many weird looks I got. It is, like Day of Silence, about an internal reflection on poverty of soul and material. My feet have carried me to Africa twice, and I will be there again this summer. They still ache and kind of burn from the cold water and pavement I sloshed through today, but tomorrow when I wear shoes I will be all the more appreciative.

One of my favorite quotes from the civil rights movement is from a woman by the name of Sister Pollard, who was in her 70s in 1955. While walking to work amidst the 13-month-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, a reporter asked her if she was exhausted or ready to ride in a vehicle once more.

Her reply: “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”

[1] Because obviously, I’m a physics wizard and therefore should be compared to Einstein. 

current jam: "aeroplane over the sea" neutral milk hotel
best thing in my life right now: being admitted to the 341 seminar i wanted next semester!
days until departure: 61


  1. I'm also taking a 300 level course! And props to you for sticking through all today.

  2. I ALWAYS noticed if YOU weren't talking. teehee.

  3. Oh, wow. Lizzie, that was beautiful. I, quite frankly, forgot that was today; not that I could have gone barefoot to school anyway. NEXT TIME, THOUGH. NEXT TIME. I love your reflection on why the silence/action is important; it isn't allowing something to happen and sitting back, but being able to understand and empathize with others.