When a longtime friend of mine was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer, her best friend told her not to give up, it was time to get out the boots, lace ’em up, and go to battle. Her best friend already had hers on, laced tight.
We all have them. That special pair of boots stored in the back of our life closet. The ones we hope to never wear, but eventually we find ourselves slipping our hesitant feet into the unfamiliar confines. Or maybe we grab them angrily from the darkness, jamming our toes into the hard, unbroken leather, laces ripping between our fingers until we stand, stomping them harshly on the ground.
I imagine them black, bold, shining. Stitched in prayer, heeled in faith, polished with hope. I first wore mine when Andrea died. I laced them up slowly, scrunching my toes against the firm insoles, pushing my ankles against the unyielding lateral sides of the boot. At times, they hurt my feet and I wanted to take them off, toss them aside. But I didn’t. Those boots got me through one of the worst times of my life. Three years later, I reached for those boots again when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The boots were slightly scuffed from the previous battle, and sadly more familiar, less uncomfortable. There was no hesitation in slipping them on and while they were brushed with fear, they were re-laced in determination.
Just recently, I put those boots away for what I’d hoped was a very long time. I knew I’d need them again, just hoped it wasn’t so soon. Then on Friday a family member was diagnosed with acute progranulocytic leukemia. When I reached into the closet for the too familiar footwear, it wasn’t with fear nor anger, but a weariness. It took me a while to step into those old boots, but when I did I felt their protective high sides, their stability, and was glad to have them.
Even now, sitting at my desk, I can feel their weight around my slippered foot and I’m comforted. Today, I wondered how many people I encountered were wearing their personal pair. The tired-eyed cashier at Dillons, the elderly man sitting in the pew in front of me who just lost his wife, the woman lost in thought in the car next to me. And had they been wearing them long. I imagine some wear them for years at a time, thinking they’ll never take them off, while others still have yet to smell the new leather, the hard rubber sole. Maybe if we imagined everyone around us in these boots, we’d be slower to judge, slower to anger, more compassionate of strangers.
After all, we all own a pair. They’re at the back of our life closet, tucked away. Sometimes we get a glimpse of them when reaching for something else and we pretend not to see them. But they are there. They are reliable. They get us through. We just hate to wear them.