This is a quote from one of my favorite books growing up, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. It popped into my head two Wednesdays ago, prompted by something you might not expect.
That night, I accidentally left a door to the Sisters’ Subaru unlocked while it was parked on a street near downtown El Paso. I was inside the Columban Mission Center for a weekly faith formation and sharing group called Engaging Spirituality. When I came out after the meeting, the vehicle’s front door was propped open a teeny bit. Thankfully, there was no damage to the car. However, I noticed that my well-loved University of Dayton drawstring gym bag was gone, along with a Sisters of Charity lunchbox I had left in the front seat.
At first I was amused. What would prompt someone to steal a lunchbox filled with empty Tupperware? Then, I began to think through what was in the UD bag: running shirt from the 2011 El Paso Half Marathon, visor, watch, deodorant, brush and comb, …shoot! Nice running shorts and socks that my Aunt and Uncle gave me for Christmas in 2010, and …SHOOT! The brand new running shoes that Mom and Dad gave me for Christmas. I got mad for a minute. I don’t spend a lot of money on clothes, and these were some nice things that I use a lot. If only I had locked that door or brought the bags inside with me!
After the initial surge of anger, I thought about how the clothes were all stinky from my run earlier that afternoon. I chuckled, much like a five year old might. I imagined the “thieves” opening the stolen bag to a wonderful surprise odor. I thought again about the lunchbox. “Who would steal something that says Sisters of Charity?!” I thought. “I bet they feel so guilty!” We later realized that the car insurance card and registration had also been taken from the glove box. A bit annoyed, I wondered what a person would do with such a random assortment of snatched items.
I reached the acceptance stage pretty quickly. What can you do really? It was a little lesson in non-resistance. Sister Carol is always good at reminding me that we save ourselves a lot of inner turmoil when we can just look at what is, even an unpleasant situation, and say, “Oh well.” Lo que pasó pasó.
I reflected as I drove home. I was relieved that I hadn’t lost my cell phone, wallet, or laptop. I was relieved that nothing happened to the car. But even if it had, obviously, the situation would have been far from a crisis. Things are just that - they serve a purpose but certainly aren’t the source of life. In fact, I realized that I have 2 or 3 extras of most of what was stolen in my drawers and closets at home. I even began to remember things that I had forgotten I owned. I have so much stuff! I began to feel a bit guilty and strangely grateful.
I had been most disappointed initially about the loss of the nice running shoes, but I quickly remembered that I have two old pairs in my closet. They’re not brand new but still do the trick. I pictured them on my closet floor, amid pairs of heels, flip flops, different colored flats, sandals, boots, clogs, slippers…you get the idea.
Visualizing this little mountain of shoes that I own, I remembered a little boy I met during my second year in Ecuador. I met him early on while singing with the youth choir at Bautismo de Jesus parish but then didn’t see him for months and months. When he finally came back to sing toward the end of the year, I asked where he had been. He glanced down at his feet that were covered by some dusty, second-hand black shoes. “We have to have closed-toed shoes to sing in the choir, and I only had this one pair of zapatillas (flip-flops). It took us awhile to get the money.”
I also thought of Mary (pronounced “MAH-ree”), a mother of 4 from our clinic in Mexico who is just a few years older than me. Last week, Sr. Carol gave her a donated pair of brand new tennis shoes that were just her size, 8. Mary smiled radiantly as she slipped the shoes on and felt their perfect fit. She rocked back and forth and bounced as if wearing moon shoes, her face glowing. “I’ve never worn a new pair of gym shoes before,” she said.
I wondered now about the person who took my things. The neighborhood around the Columban Mission Center is low-income and filled with people who struggle to make ends meet. Maybe someone in need walked down the street, checking for unlocked car doors in hopes of finding something to sell for food. Maybe it was a couple of teenage kids who don’t get much attention or have much of a future and so resort to things like that for entertainment. I'm not saying it was right. But I’d bet that whoever did it has a lot less shoes in their closet and a life much more difficult than mine has ever been. And I can't be sure I wouldn't do a similar thing if I had walked their road of life. Initial resentment turned into compassion.
“Never judge a man before you've walked two moons in his moccasins.” (or running shoes, or zapatillas…)
My friend Fr. Bill reminded me that "moons" in indigenous cultures represent a certain period of time, probably about a month. What would it mean to walk two moons? I think if we gave ourselves to that persistent empathy and understanding, we'd find that we would still have more to learn after walking 20 or 200 moons in someone else's shoes. We can't ever know for sure the journeys of others. We can only know the way things look from where we stand. It's a pretty limited view. We can only fairly judge ourselves.
I’m not sure where my stuff ended up. Perhaps all of it is in a trash can somewhere, or maybe the shoes are warming the feet of someone who really needed them. I hope so. Either way, I’m thankful for the awareness gained through the “loss.” Each day as I put on my shoes, I hope I can hold in my heart all of the different people around the world lacing up , slipping on, Velcro-ing, and the many wearing no shoes at all. What different lives we all have. What would it be like to be in their shoes?
My prayer is this: to be ever grateful for the shoes I stand in
and to be always compassionate to the many, many people
who stand in shoes that I have never tried on.