He never had a chance to put them on. They sat in a corner room of his home that opened up to the side porch, next to all his other half worn and worn-out boots, still wrapped in tissue and boxed up from when he brought them home from work. “What size shoe do you wear?” his wife called out to me from the living room as we ran around the house in the early winter’s morning trying to clear away the hospice supplies and sad reminders o the previous six months.
I paused, knowing what was coming next, very uncomfortable with the thought of taking anything for myself from a dead man. “Size nine” I shouted back. “Oh, good!” She sounded so pleased I wondered if she’d forgotten for the moment that her husband had died just hours before. “I can’t find anyone who wears a size nine and there’s some boots back there you can have.”
All Twisted Up Inside
I stood still, all twisted up inside wondering about grief and regret and looking down at all the boots. “I definitely could use them,” I thought. I finally hemmed and hawed my way back into the living room where she was working quietly in a fleeting moment of peace and grace with no tears left to shed, understanding grief and regret as only a young widow could. “Please take them” she said, while gathering up all the now useless medications and stuffing them into a ziplock bag.
The knot in my stomach grew tighter when I said “ok.” I went back to clearing the room, still torn in the thought of taking something that wasn’t mine to begin with, even if it had been so generously offered.
He knew how to pick out a good pair of boots, but I only grabbed two pair and left the rest behind, wondering if it was more pride or guilt that kept me from grabbing the others. I tried not to think about it all too much, because the more I did, the more guilt poured in, thinning my pride and carving out the banks of my soul. Guilt wears a man down quicker than pride breaks him, but I was pretty empty and broken in the moment already and most of those feelings just fell through so I decided to just work and wait for something else to fill me up.
I hesitated for months before finally pulling them out and lacing them on for work. Somewhere in the back of my mind was this faint superstition about the unknown and how I might be walking the same path as the man who brought them home from his work only to never put them on. Would I leave them behind half worn to be tossed out and forgotten like the boots I’d left behind in that little room off the side porch? Or, would I leave the unknown future to itself and use the gift given to me in a moment of grace and out of an abundance of love?
My miserable anxieties had left me more unused than the boots, until at long last I kicked around in all those things for a while to break them in. I got lost in a trace of that same grace-filled moment of peace when the boots were first given to me, when the young tearless widow taught me to give all was to live.
The real gift for me went beyond the boots. It began with her telling me before I left, that although she was completely undone, she had zero regrets because she and her husband had left nothing unsaid. She was broken but not empty because she’d given all she had to give.
I finally threw away those boots yesterday with no regrets. They fit better and lasted longer than I imagined they ever would. I wish they could’ve lasted longer. Good gifts are like that.
Travis Jones is a blue collar dad filling up his journal for his girls. His last article was an entry in our “Corona Stories” series, “Reflections On Death When The Toilet Paper Is Gone.” You can find all his articles here, including his reflection on having cancer.
The picture, taken by “A Continuous Lean,” is used under a creative commons license.