Stubborn grains from a sandy beach cling to the graying laces of the shoes I wore when I trudged along the Florida shore to build up stamina for the year ahead. Dust from garden mulch covers another pair, an uninvited tagalong from the ground around my broken fence, the one I propped up until a more permanent fix was found. Mud encrusts my favorite boots, a portable memorial of the spot where I laid our precious dog to rest.
I have trudged a thousand rugged miles through grief in recent months, and I have the gritty shoes to prove it. It isn’t as if I have no idea what to do with dirty shoes. I’d rather not have to do it.
George was the keeper of the shoes, the one who cleaned and polished them to a military shine. He had a bristly brush to clean away the dirt and saddle soap in case of grime. He had a box full of polishes—multiple shades of brown, standard black and navy, baby-shoe and sneaker white, and, best of all, red for the adventuresome women in his life. Not content with merely rubbing for the shine, he lit a match to melt the polish, then buffed repeatedly until each shoe sported a soldier-worthy gloss.
If I close my eyes, I can almost see him now bent for hours at this task. On the right, a jumbled pile of oft worn shoes waited longingly for his restoring touch. Each was eager for the privilege to stand at strict attention with the boots and shoes now burnished bright that lined up on the left. His tidy, trusty shoeshine box squared off obediently in front of him, like one of the altars on which he served.
In this is love—in George’s commitment to a menial task that benefited the people he loved the best, and to do what he could to help them put their best foot forward.