Monday morning I boarded a train (BART) to ride from Pleasanton CA to the Oakland Airport, just five stops before getting off and onto the two-car shuttle to the airport. As the train filled with people, I mean really filled, within the 15 minutes before leaving, I found myself looking down at the floor and all the shoes worn by all the people both sitting and standing there. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to look at their faces, which I did, I just found the many choices of shoes rather interesting early Monday morning. What did those shoes reflect about those who were wearing them?
I saw the usual business types, the no-nonsense, very practical and comfortable type, somewhat stylish but nothing distinguishing. Some were leather or a facsimile, different sizes of course. Couldn’t quite figure out the women’s flats with buckles on the toes although I knew from a daughter’s previous choices who some of those names were. Now I see you can get Gucci or Stella McCartney lace-up sneakers for a mere $700-800. I remember when women walked to work in sensible sneakers, or tennis shoes, as we called them, and carried their dress shoes in a bag, changing when they got into the office. Now there seems to be a shoe for every different kind of activity.
The men going to work shoes probably depended on their job whether in some kind of construction, business or professional role or merely a casual, leisurely type shoe. The range of sneakers was amazing, various Nike models distinguished by that unmistakable logo, Skechers, Vans, Adidas and I think I saw at least one Puma, Converse, Jordan, Asics and New Balance. After all, isn’t it all about branding?
There were shoes that looked fairly new and others that were well worn. Most appeared to be clean, a few were not. Some looked like they might soon be due for replacement, others had miles to go. Then I wondered about how many pairs of shoes each of these people owned, whether they wore their favorite ones most of the time or whether they rotated depending on some preference about which I had no clue whatsoever. And then, I said to myself, what am I to make of all of this and here’s what came to mind, my muddled and irritated mind. Remember, it’s the irritation that produces the pearl.
No judgments, no bias, no real opinions about those wearing the shoes. I did not know from the shoes, in some cases, whether it was a man or a woman, or whether the person was young or old, brown, black or white, Republican or Democrat, foreign or domestic, just that they had put on their shoes that morning and that we were all together in the same space, going somewhere. We were all just people with a common goal, that of reaching our destination in the most efficient form of transportation during rush hour. What if we were all just people with some other common goal, one that we could all agree would be worth pursuing together out of our common interests and needs? What would that look like and feel like if that common goal was what we could agree was a critical issue that needs to be resolved? Go ahead, pick one. Health care? Education? Justice? Poverty? Environment? Others?
While that may not happen anytime soon, at least we might find common ground on which we could stand together, people united for a common cause. It is how we get things done, common purpose, common goals, working together as a community to make life just a little bit better for all. My hope is that you will find yourself aligned with others this year in that kind of work. While immensely challenging, it is enormously rewarding.