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My Mother's Shoes

by Nancy Nason Guss 4 months ago in humanity

A revised excerpt from my book ISOLATION SHORTS

My Mother's Shoes 15 years later. They live on the patio, and I still wear them to garden.

After Mom died, my sister and I split up whatever clothes she had that we would use. Mom always had an impeccable taste with an eye for quality. She and I wore the same size sandals, and there was an almost new pair, light blue with a cushy feel to them. I tried one on, and it seemed to fit, so they were mine. They would be perfect around the house and when I did my gardening outside. Once home, I wanted to feel closer to Mom. Her shoes were there, and they matched my outfit.

I slipped them on and walked a few steps. Ouch! They hurt! Standing in the shoes of another can be very uncomfortable.

As I walked down the Pinellas Trail, I saw a homeless woman sitting under a picnic shelter. She was covered with thick layers of cloaks and blankets. It was 90 degrees, and the Florida sun shone. From her shoes, I see from under her makeshift tent a safety, hiding from the judgment of others. I am she.

I see the anger, celebration, conviction from those at rallies or protests. Their shoes are marching carrying signs of sides and slogans, some of which I may agree or disagree. I am they.

A man darts through traffic, weaving aggressively between cars, almost hitting mine and others, recklessly endangering all in his path. His shoes are on the accelerator. I am he.

A woman is in a nursing home, alone, unaware, and nodding off as her slippers fall off her feet. I am she.

A man is under the knee of a police officer. His shoes tied together. “I can’t breathe,” he says. I am he.

Another is kneeling on a man’s neck, taking away his breath. The tips of his leather shoes are on the ground. I am he.

The hospital cook works many stations in the kitchen, checking all the meals to make sure each is prepared for individual patient needs. He has been there since five in the morning and will be there through the dinner service. The person who is supposed to relieve him is now in the COVID unit and struggling to breathe. Another was exposed and called in sick. The cook wipes the sweat from his brow, looks down. A tear lands on his black, grease covered shoes. He says, "God give me strength to go on." I am he.

A teacher stands in front of the class during the final period of the day and gives directions for a group assignment. She walks to her computer, picks it up, and carries her virtual students to where they can participate in the discussion groups. She monitors and attends to both the virtual students and in-person groups, asking and answering questions when needed. Her feet are swollen in her shoes, and they squeeze her feet. She paces between the groups, ignoring the pain, acting as if her energy is the same as it was earlier in the day. Her students deserve the best, and she goes into her reserves to ensure they receive it. I am she.

A student stares at a computer. "I can't do this, Mom!" School used to be fun, and he learned so much more when the teacher was there. Watching his class through a computer screen is not the same. He slides his feet back into the shoes below his chair, turns off the video, leaves the computer running, and goes outside for some air. He ties his shoes, and runs down the street toward his old bus stop, then he turns around and walks back to his house and to the computer to try again. He slides his shoes off his feet. I am he.

Men and women are alone in COVID-19 sections of the hospital, paralyzed and hooked into ventilators that are breathing for them. The hospital socks keep their feet warm. I am they.

A family stands in a circle around a table with a phone in the middle. “We love you so much,” they say through cracking voices of grief. A child’s voice is heard saying “I love you Gran. Please come home soon.” Her daddy hugs his daughter and picks her up. Her shoes are decorated with pink and purple ribbons crafted by the one in the hospital bed. The phone is silent, and the nurse says goodbye. The shoes are in a circle, supporting each member of a family as they collapse into each other’s arms. I am they.

A nurse hears the final goodbyes from a family, ending with a sweet child’s voice wanting her Gran to come home. The nurse is tired, sheds a tear for the family, dons her body with protective gowns, and tugs on the blue latex gloves as they go over each finger. She pulls the shoe covers over her white sneakers, and they carry her next to the patient’s bed, where she stands, holding the hand of Gran through her final moments. I am she.

I stand in my mother’s shoes, and they hurt just like the last year of her life hurt her. I am she.

I cry.


This is a revised piece from my book Isolation Shorts. A “shorts” piece is a brief thought that includes a quote and brief writing followed by a reflection, response, and focus for moving forward. For this piece, the reflection and response are below.

My mother's shoes are now well-worn, but they still hurt. I keep them around to remind me that many others are enduring unimaginable hardships. I wear them to feel closer to my mother as I do my outdoor chores.

Reflection: Consider those whom we were happy not to be. Put ourselves in their shoes and reflect on the world through the lens of their eyes or the soles of their feet.

Response: For everyone we see today, look at them and say, “I am he,” or “I am she.”


Nancy Nason Guss

Nancy Nason Guss, a retired career educator, is Living with Gussto, a life filled with Books, Bagpipes, & Blogs. In addition to playing bagpipes, she's published pieces for all ages that process life's triumphs and tribulations.

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