by Father Mark Goldasich
History will dub it “The Incident of the Flying Shoes.” The primary players were my mom and my dad; I was still in grade school.
My dad was a very laid-back, gentle soul. Not much rattled him, with the exception of one thing: my mom’s shoe problem. Now, Mom wasn’t some American Imelda Marcos with thousands of pairs of expensive shoes squirreled away.
No, her “problem” was that she preferred not to wear shoes in the house when the weather got warmer. That, in itself, was not the issue. It was where Mom left her shoes that drove Dad crazy. They could be found . . . anywhere.
The day of the “incident,” Dad was walking through the kitchen and stumbled over something. When he looked down — sure enough — the culprit was a pair of Mom’s shoes. My dad said nothing. He merely bent over and calmly picked up the shoes. Then he proceeded to the back porch with the shoes in hand, opened the screen door and flung the shoes, one after the other, out into the backyard.
After a moment of stunned silence, my mom exploded . . . with laughter! I joined in and watched as a sheepish grin spread across my dad’s face. His point was made. I went to retrieve the two “identified flying objects,” and Mom never again — for the rest of that day, at least — left her shoes lying around.
I thought about that long-ago family drama the other morning when I looked down at my bedroom floor and saw, to my astonishment, that I’d apparently inherited my mom’s “discarding shoe syndrome.” Arrayed before me on said floor were two pairs of black shoes in a mixed-up jumble, a pair of slippers, one sneaker (the other sat on a shelf in the closet), and a pair of flip-flops. On the bedroom closet shelf (along with that one sneaker) were several other pairs of assorted shoes. Seeing my shoe collection proved the truth of an e-mail that I’d recently received from an organization called Soles4Souls. This not-for-profit agency was founded shortly after the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and was the brainchild of Wayne Elsey. While watching pictures of the tsunami’s destruction, Elsey saw a shot of a single shoe washing up on a beach. That image inspired him to move from feeling helpless to responding in a practical way to the disaster. He decided to “change the world one pair at a time.” Soles4Soles was born.
Through Elsey’s efforts, some 250,000 pairs of shoes made their way to that region devastated by the tsunami. When Hurricane Katrina hit our country in 2005, Soles4Soles — with the help of the shoe industry, businesses, churches, and individuals — sent 1 million shoes to the people of the Gulf Coast.
The organization continues its work now in 35 states and 50 countries throughout the world.
It’s estimated that some 300 million children in the world go barefoot. Not only does this make those children more susceptible to cuts, scrapes and bruises, but it also puts them at a higher risk for disease. In many countries, fields and village streets are often used as sewers. Running around barefoot in such settings makes it easy for intestinal parasites to enter the children’s bodies and compromise their health.
On the flip side, it’s believed that Americans have some 1.5 billion (yes, billion) pairs of unworn shoes residing in their closets. Soles4Souls exists to link the haves and the have-nots through footwear.
On June 1, the group is encouraging churches to conduct a “Barefoot Sunday” campaign. While it’s obviously too late to do that this year, the idea is intriguing: After Sunday Mass, for example, parishioners would be encouraged to come forward, leave their shoes around the altar as a donation and leave church barefooted. This practical gesture would demonstrate our solidarity with the world’s poor, who don’t get to choose to go barefoot, and our desire to assist them.
I’ve often encouraged people to “walk in someone else’s shoes” in order to understand them better. I never dreamed that so many in the world don’t even have the shoes for us to do that.
I don’t know much more about Souls4Souls than what I read on its Web site — www.soles4souls.org — but I am attracted to this easy way to make a positive difference in the world.
And I suppose to be fair, I’d better warn my mom to keep a closer eye on her shoes now that summer is here.