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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Stepping Outside the Box

Karen and I started "real" dating 25 years ago this month.

Our first actual date was in August 1980, about two months after graduation from Anderson College. We went to see Fiddler on the Roof presented in a huge tent by the Nettle Creek Players, a now defunct summer stock troupe in Hagerstown, Indiana. We had sputtered with attempts to date when we were in College, but we decided to go the more inconvenient route, waiting until we lived three hours apart.

Karen is a farmer's daughter. That is the source of her personal strength and good nature. When Karen invited me to Indiana to spend a day or two with her, I was excited to finally get to the farm and spend time with her family. She said she had a very special date for us Saturday evening.

I thought we were going to a barn dance.

Nevertheless, "Fiddler" set the tone for the rest of our dating life, engagement, and wedding. (We were married under a 'chupah' - albeit in a Wesleyan Church, but the sentiment was there.)

In the September following "Fiddler", Karen came to Findlay. We decided to keep with the Jewish theme, so we went and bought all the ingredients for a traditional Jewish meal for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year.

While Karen was in Findlay that weekend, we walked a lot. The afternoon of our Rosh Hashanah dinner, my then roommate, Lon, took our picture sitting on the railing of the noble Benevolent Order of Elks Lodge in downtown Findlay. Karen was in a red polo shirt and jeans, with her ever-present Dr. Scholl's wooden soled sandals. I was in a striped polo shirt, brown trousers, and my ever-present black and white saddle oxfords.

The framed photo is still on our picture table in the front room, a happy reminder of what has been 24 happy years of marriage.

I loved those saddle shoes. I had worn various kinds of saddle shoes in high school, which was something of a localized fad. Most common were an off-white toe box with a dark navy blue saddle. I had some of those. I also had a pair with a tan suede toe box and brown leather saddle and another pair of brown leather on brown leather. But my black and whites were my favorites.

I wore them through my Anderson College years, painstakingly keeping the white parts white with that white shoe polish that has a miniature pom-pon at the end of twisted wire attached to the lid. I wore them while Karen and I were dating and engaged. I wore them on my first job, as Junior High Coordinator of Findlay Youth for Christ.

On our honeymoon in June, 1981, I had a harder problem with shoes. I took a whole suitcase just for shoes. I had my favorite running shoes (we both were runners at the time). I had my favorite walking Hush Puppies (we loved taking walks together). I had my burgundy slip-ons, for dressy occasions. I had my woven casual shoes, for comfort. I had my moccasins, for knocking around. And, of course, my saddle oxfords.

The suitcase of shoes was really less about shoes and more about my plaguing inability to make a decision and stick with it. My decision about marrying Karen was not one of those decisions, but indecision tends to be my life pattern.

It's ironic, then, that as I reminisce about my favorite old saddle shoes, I write this article about "Stepping Outside the Box." Ironic because I've made a decision about 'stepping outside the box' that's taken three months for me to work up to telling about. It's not a shocking decision. It's actually quite a simple one.

Keep in mind, I've stepped outside the box many times, often to crawl back in. Ah, yes. There was the time I stepped outside the haircut box and went with shaved sides and long on top. (What was I thinking?) There were the Vegetarian Days (as opposed to the Atkins Diet Days), the Apostolic Christian phase (contrasted with the High Church Anglican pilgrimage), the "Let's Raise Goats" years, the Settlement of Antarctica Plan (in high school), and many more.

But this box I'm stepping out of for good. It's the Shoe Box. No more shoes, unless I have to wear them. None. Nada. No more.

It all started back in July when I was dealing with a monster case of bursitis. Prescription steroids didn't work. Prescription strength Alleve didn't work. Exercises from our doctor didn't work. I had begun walking with a cane and could barely stand for more than a few minutes without my entire leg going dead.

One afternoon, in great pain, I went to my friendly Reflexologist, Nedra. After my treatment, Nedra said, in passing, "You know, going barefooted is like having reflexology all the time."

So I gave it a try. The first day the pain was lessened. The second day, the pain was gone. And it has been gone ever since.

Little by little, I began wearing shoes less and less. In mid-July, I started wearing sandals to work. A week later, I cut the straps off the back of them so I could get out of them fast. A month later I bought a pair of Birkenstock knock-offs, which have become my daily shoes. I put them on when I get to work, and I take them off ASAP after. I wear shoes to Church, but take them off for Sunday School. I don't wear them to Bible Study.

There have been many wonderful benefits to me in going barefooted these last few months that go beyond the bursitis problem.

First of all, being barefooted has gotten me walking for my health again. Originally, I wanted to "toughen" my soles. But as time has progressed, I rediscovered the benefits of walking. I now walk 2-4 miles a day barefooted over all sorts of surfaces - mostly concrete and asphalt, but also grass, gravel, dirt, and mulch. And acorns, pine cones, walnuts and buckeyes. The walking has helped me trim a few pounds (much needed), but also walking barefooted has created more sensitivity to the world around me outdoors.

Secondly, barefooted walking has strengthened my feet and legs. Karen has long maintained that I have 'prissy' feet. No more! I don't have ogre feet now, but I do have strong feet.

Third, this minor change of lifestyle has emboldened my creative thinking. I started The Country Parson blog to channel some of this creative energy. I've started working on a book that has long lain dormant in my mind and in the computer. I'm feeling sharper at work and more attuned at home.

Fourthly, barefooting has been a great conversation starter. I love talking to people. I love to hear their story. A room full of people engaged in pleasant conversation is music to my ears. It's amazing to me how a simple thing like going barefooted has gotten people talking.

Finally, I just think it's fun. Cheap, easy, a little bit ornery, fun. It's something I like doing and I like doing it for me. There's not a lot in this life I do for myself (which is both good and bad), and barefooting is something I'm doing that's not hurting anyone else and it's helping me tremendously. And in an unexplainable way, I just think it's fun.

Thing is, I am just as comfortable barefooted as I ever was in those favorite old saddle shoes. If not moreso. As much as I loved those black and whites, I'm finding that I love my own natural feet better.

(I don't know what ever became of those saddle shoes. I suspect they were part of a post-nuptial wardrobe correction, but I couldn't say for certain.)

So there. The Country Parson has stepped out of the shoe box.I just hope I haven't stepped back in by the time you read this! ;-)


Mimi said...

What an interesting post! Congratulations to you and Karen!

Lola said...

Love my Birkie clogs . . . about the only two good things with cold weather includes being able to wear my Birkie clogs so I can show off my handknit socks. In a couple weeks or so I will be able to do so. yayyy!

aprilnotthemonth said...

Hey Brian,

I love the posting! What fun it is to frolic in the tulips barefoot! Do you ever worry about foot fungus? Or is that beneath you...ha!