By Alex Cohen

While on vacation in Italy this summer, I came upon a jewelry store and in the window was a gold charm bracelet with all types of shoes on it. I walked past the store every day for three days and even tried it on once. I told the storeowner I would think about it and come back to him. He looked at me and I am sure he thought, she will never come back. I could not stop thinking about it and on our last day on the island, I decided to buy it. He was pleasantly surprised to see me and even happier that I wore it right out of the store.

The reason this charm bracelet appealed to me was because it had all types of shoes dangling from it; a hockey skate, a ballet slipper, baby booties, a ski boot, soccer cleats, a flip-flop, a figure skate, a golf shoe, a high heel, a slipper, a genie shoe, a work boot, and even the shoe the little old woman lived in with all her kids – that one opens and all the kids are in there. It had a shoe for almost every hobby, job or occasion.

It got me thinking how much we take shoes for granted. You can tell a lot about a person from the shoes they wear. What comes to mind when I say cowboy boots? Where does your imagination take you when I say ballet slippers? Baby booties? Does the thought of a flip-flop take you to the beach? How about a filthy broken smelly sneaker, does that bring a homeless person to mind?

What does it mean to you to walk in someone else’s shoes? To me it means that I need to stop and remind myself that no one can truly know the real me unless they’ve walked in my shoes and lived my life, and I need to remember the same about them. We spend a lot of time judging others, me included, but we have no idea what pain they may be carrying and what trauma has shaped who they are; no one is immune.

Thoughts are subjective. Who doesn’t think happy thoughts when they see baby booties? Some think about a chubby little cooing baby who smells like heaven, but to others it may be a sad memory of a lost child or a miscarriage; to someone else it could be the yearning to have a child. Shoes, like lives, are very different.

Ever since I can remember, I have always made up stories about the strangers around me. Sometimes I sat in the back of a car and stared at the car beside me wondering where they were headed and what they planned on doing once they got there. I would make up stories in my head; if it was a family, I would imagine they were going camping. Once there, they would pitch a tent, light a fire, make S’mores, swim in the lake, laugh, and be the happiest family on the campsite. I had no idea who these people were and for all I knew they could be on the run from the law or kidnapping those damn kids!

How well do we know those around us? How hard do we try to understand who they are and why they are the way they are? After meeting my husband’s entire family and hearing all their childhood tales, I understood why he is the way he is, and because of that I better understand how to deal with certain issues whenever they may arise. It wasn’t until I put myself in his shoes, taking into account his childhood, that I was able to let go of the preconceptions I had. I’m not saying I can do this all the time, but I try my best.

I had a poster on my bedroom wall growing up that read “You can’t know who I am if you don’t know where I came from.” This remains true today. We have become a society that makes friends through social media; what you see is what they want you to see, not what’s behind the camera. How many times do you look through those pictures and think, I would love to have that person’s life, or it looks so much more exciting or more glamorous than ours. We have no idea what their lives are really like; all we see is a smiling family. For all we know they could be adulterers or abusers behind those smiles – ZERO CLUE.

The only way to truly get to know someone and understand why they are the way they are is to listen to their stories, meet their friends and family if possible, be there when they are happy, sad, confused, anxious, elated, etc. These experiences not only help us become better human beings but they make us real friends who understand and accept people for who they are and stop trying to change or judge them.

Shoes are a metaphor for life. We all come in different sizes, shapes, and colors but in the end they get us where we need to go. My shoes took a beating and kept walking; they took me on many adventures, some good, some very hard, and some great. My road was never a straight one, nor was it an easy one, but my shoes never let me down. They kept me on a path until I finally made it to where I am today. Some look at my life as that of great ease and privilege, without a care in the world. You have no idea what my road was like getting here or where my shoes will take me in the future. My road still has forks, bumps and many hills but I trust that my shoes will get me through all of it!