Bob Schwenkler

Giving the Shoes Off Our Feet

Written by on September 12, 2014

Posted in: Class and Race

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I carried my $1500 laptop in its case

as I walked toward the dinner place in Salt Lake last night. I felt a little bit safer about bringing it with me than I did leaving it in the car at that time of night. As I walked I passed a group of homeless people. They were all white. This is a relatively safe city (Yes, this is me making very racist and biased judgements about other humans. I’ll own that.) And still, an oh so tiny twinge of fear.

As I passed I heard a line come my way that I haven’t yet heard in my life.

“Do you have some shoes I can have?”

I looked at him. The bridge of his nose had recently been cut up and he showed similar scrapes above his jawbones. He smelled a little bit like alcohol and had (to be judgmental, again) an unrefined demeanor. His hair was dirty and dreaded, dirty clothes, and a stooped posture. He was looking at me but not quite making eye contact. He had no shoes on his feet.

I really noticed this. It’s not often that I see bare human feet standing upon city sidewalks.

In the past I wouldn’t have stopped. I was right on time for my dinner. But since I’ve started playing The Dollar Game (a game where I was asking people on the street for $1 bills, with the intention of giving them all back to other people later on) I’ve been giving a lot more consideration to my interactions with people on the street when I’m asked for money and, in this case, shoes.

I take more care to notice what comes up for me when people make asks. Normally I either say nothing and walk by or I say “no”, even if I do have money and I just don’t want to give it to them.

I think about what it would mean to give them a more straightforward and respectful answer than the disregard or lie that I tend to offer.

Maybe instead I can say “What for?” Or I could say “I don’t want to,” and offer an open hearted smile.

In this case I paused to consider my options. I had shoes in my car a few blocks away. Fairly new $90 shoes, but still, I thought about it. I thought about giving him the shoes on my feet and I might well have done so if I weren’t heading to a restaurant. I thought about if I wanted to give him my shoes at all. I don’t have much money in my bank account right now. And I thought about how different of a thing it is for me to make money than it is for him to do so.

I said “If you’re still here after I’m done I’ll give you some shoes.” (Meaning the shoes in my car.)

He said thanks. I kept walking and then stopped. Something was tugging inside of me. I took out my phone and Yelped “shoes” and saw that there was a shoe store just one block out of my way. I called them up and asked their prices and they said the low end was about $50.

I walked back to the man, he was facing away from me in a group of some other homeless folks. One of them got his attention. “Hey.”

He turned around and I said “C’mon. Let’s go get some shoes,” and we headed off toward the store side my side. Me in a salmon pink J Crew collared shirt, leather loafers, and light weather chino pants. Him cut up, dirty, unshaven, ratty hair. No shoes.


I asked him where he was born

and he told me. He told me about going to jail for dealing drugs and how he was done forever with any drug use or dealing. “I stick to vodka,” he said. He told me about how most people didn’t even take a moment to consider his request for shoes. Told me he had a kid, somewhere.

We chatted until we got to the spot where the store was supposed but, voila!, no store. He (in his still unrefined manner) asked passersby if they knew where the shoe store was while I was on hold with the shoe store we sought, intending to find out if they had moved or if I just wasn’t seeing it.

The shoe store didn’t pick my line back up so I hung up. We decided that it wasn’t there, the closest place was two train stops away and I was late for dinner. We decided to call it quits and walked together the one block back to the street with my restaurant.

I said “I wish I could have gotten you some shoes.”

He said “It’s fine.” And I could tell that it was.

Then, “Thank you so much for stopping though. Most people don’t even stop at all.”

I felt a desire to want to offer him something more. I do powerful work with people. I change peoples’ lives with my coaching. I considered it, felt into it. And it didn’t feel right to try to go there. What felt right was to have genuine conversation. Look him in the eyes. Offer my support. To really be with him.

And that was it. He went to wherever he went to and I went to dinner.


I have a lot of resource, whether socially, emotionally, culturally, financially… He has a lot less.

Or maybe that’s just a judgement.

Maybe I’m just selling out on him as an incredibly complex human being who has a whole range of gifts and experiences to share by saying that he’s got less than me.

Maybe what happened between us is perfect. Maybe where he is and where I am, but also where he’s going and where I’m going are all perfect.

If he were not perfect, or if I judged him to not be, what opportunity for genuine connection would we both have missed out on? If I thought that he needed my help what would that say about my ability to love him for who he is?

And when I choose to love someone for who they are what becomes possible between us?

What becomes possible in my life when I live from this place?


Know also

that I didn’t simply make a choice to live from this place one day and was instantly able to do it. It’s been a practice. I’ve had to feel the anger, the sadness, the shame, the fear. Also though, the joy, the ecstasy, the power, the stillness.

I’ve had to feel them as fully as I could manage, in every moment that I possibly could.

And when I make this practice a part of who I am, who I identify as, and how I live my life, then I have access to compassion. For the man on the street. For clients. For potential clients. For my family. For friends, acquaintances…

And most importantly, I believe, because this is where all of my actions, thoughts, feelings, and relationships spring from, I have access to compassion for myself.

What becomes possible in the world when we are all living from this place?

I yearn to find out.

Glad you’re here finding out with me.

So, thank you for that. It feels good to be here with you.

 

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