By Shaunda Kennedy Wenger –
Shoes. They say a lot about a person don’t they?
Some hint at place of work. Others at interests. And others at personality.
And in every person’s closet sits a favorite pair. As it turns out, I’m no different. Or perhaps I am. Because one would presume that a favorite pair of shoes would possess a certain level of crowd-appeal. However, the shoes that I like to wear throughout winter definitely don’t do me any favors on fitting in. My kids laugh at me. My friends tend to avoid looking below my knees if they’re paying me a compliment. And my students like to say in mocking tones, “Wearing your favorite pair of shoes today, Mrs. Wenger?”
In these situations I have to nod and acknowledge with a bit of self-serving pride that yes, I like my shoes. Because when it comes down to the nitty-gritty heart of the matter, they remind me of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. But not in a Red-and-Sparkly, Sequined, Pump-Heel-Clicking Sort-of-Way. No, mine are jazzed more in a Sketcher Tone Up, Floating-on-my-Feet, Snazzy-Silvery-Blue Kind of Way.
Like Dorothy, I’ve never really balked at the color of my shoes. But I’ll admit, she had good reason not to complain. After all, her shoes were a means to an end–for getting her back home to Auntie Em–for finding her way out of Oz, a place where she felt she didn’t fit in. But unlike Dorothy, I already know that despite what’s on my feet, I’m going to do my best to enjoy getting through my day.
How did I get to this mind-set? How do I maintain it? It’s not always easy.
Like Dorothy, everyone wants to fit in. Everyone wants a pair of magic shoes that might whisk them away to down-home plaid-curtain-comfort with fresh-baked pies sitting on the windowsill. However, the reality is that shoes like that don’t exist. The reality is, we have to find our own comfort on our own two feet, no matter what we happen to be wearing.
Where do we start with fitting in? In kindergarten when we learn to share crayons? In elementary school when we learn to smile brightly for our class picture? In junior high when we learn which brands work and which ones should be avoided at all costs?
Without a doubt the notion of “fitting in” follows us throughout the course of our lives, whether it is at work, among friends, at church, or shopping at the local mall. There are certain norms and boundaries on behaviors wherever we go, and as we grow, we learn what those boundaries are through verbal and social cues from others.
However, the one boundary, the one NORM that I hope any person learns to revere, love, and protect the most is the one contained within the soles of his/her own two feet. We can learn to fit in anywhere, we can learn to get along with most anyone, provided that a love of self is instilled first.
When I was growing up, I was incredibly shy. I remember thinking I wasn’t good enough for most anyone or anything I came in contact with. No matter who I met, they had something better to say than I did, had better friends to be with, had more fun things to do. It’s a horrible feeling, really, to think that you are not good enough for what is going on around you. I’m not sure what inside me changed. I’m not sure that feeling of not being good enough has ever completely gone away. Some days I hear its voice whining at the edges of my mind louder than others. But I do know that somehow, someway, I finally learned to start accepting myself for the person I am. At some point, I realized I liked how I felt when I smiled, and I liked seeing that feeling mirrored in the face of the person I was sharing it with. At some time, at some moment, I began to realize that what I had to say was worth it — whether it was to share a comment, a joke, a kind word, or a modest observation. I knew I simply wanted to share what was on my mind, not for the sake of wanting to fit in, but also simply because I wanted to see what others might share in return. An opinion. A joke. An observation. A smile.
Finding confidence in standing on your own two feet–in your own two shoes–is a lifetime journey. For some, that confidence along with humility comes sooner than for others. I don’t talk about shoes in any of my novels, but the issues of wanting to be accepted and struggling with confidence and personal identity do thread their way through the undertows of my stories. Perhaps the reason for that is because it was part of my story, and I know it is the same for many others.
More than anything, I hope that my readers, like my characters, come to realize that they are worth it. They are worth the space they are standing in. And they are worth sharing themselves from the inside-out and the outside-in. The person whom they are, should and will shine brighter than any pair of ruby-shinning or silvery-blue pair of shoes they might be wearing. All they have to do is open up, smile, and stand tall.
Shaunda Kennedy Wenger is author of 10 including her newest cookbook “From Rivets and Rails, Recipes of a Railroad Boarding House Cookbook. She blogs at www.shaundawenger.blogspot.com