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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Are our stories real?

St Anne's Square, Manchester

My mum said she’d buy me a pair of shoes for Christmas, and so we wandered around, but all I really wanted was a pair of Campers. I like them. They are cool. They remind me of my friends, of my life lived in Barcelona. I’ve never had a pair. I warn Mum: ‘They are expensive! I could pay for half.’ But as my wonderful mother would have it, they are a gift, and she would not gift only one shoe. We find the Camper store in Manchester’s St Anne’s Square, and they are just perfect. They are the colour I want, they are the type I dreamed of, they are leather on the end of my legs that make me jump into a silly looking dance straight there in the shop. I love them, I love my Mum, I love the world, I even, in that moment, love Manchester.


A couple of walking weeks later, I stay over at my friends’ house, and Claire in the morning says sheepishly, ‘Sorry the dog took one of your shoes to bed.’ I was alarmed. ‘She didn’t do anything, she just likes sleeping by shoes.’ But when I picked it up, we both saw, quite unexpectedly, that the inner side of the shoe was of a completely different leather to the rest. It was old and wrinkly, and I did not like it one bit. Though ‘til then I had never actually noticed it, now it was all I could see.

So, I went back to the shop. It was not clear what could be done. They gave me the standard line ‘They are made out of natural leather, it varies from piece to piece. Look it says it is here in on the shoes’ he fingers a tag on a shoe in the store. ‘But,’ I claim ‘they are SO different!’ I do puppy dog eyes. The shop assistant seemingly obvious to my deep inner pain, drops any responsibility claiming ‘The people making the decisions are in Spain.’ We come to an impasse. I pull out the oldest trick in the book ‘What would you do in my position?’ and look down sadly at the two shoes on the shop counter that is now manifesting as court house, and hold my silence. 

So he took photos of the ‘obvious disparity’. 

It got escalated. 

I got an email from the head of the store about two weeks later, which I read while my feet warmed the wrinkled leather of the shoes. Yes, he writes, natural leather varies, but in this situation they would be prepared to exchange. So, I went to the shop, walking in a pair of flip-flops as my only substitution. I mentioned at the now, familiar counter that I had talked to the boss. Julie? No it was a man. He says ‘I mean is your name Julie?’ ‘Ohh,’ I say ‘yes.’ We both ignore how stupid I have just been. Nice man.

He has the shoes waiting for me. As he bends down into the cupboard I blather on about these shoes not being the same, that I have always wanted Camper shoes, that I really like Camper, what a good company it is. Etc etc. I was so pleased that a company was prepared to see from the client’s point of view. And with baited breath I watch him deftly open the shoe box. I don’t continue to breathe on seeing them. They were...? The manager says ‘Ohh these are different too!’ and he goes on about leather again, and natural leather, and explains that if we were to skin a human the leather on our hands would not be the same as if we skinned our forearms...he realises he’d gone a bit too far then and shuts up. I look at these new shoes...one was almost entirely ‘old’ wrinkly leather cut from the face of a cow that had used botox all of its life. The saving grace is that it is fortunately the left while I had a problem with the right. So the manager says ‘You could take just one if you wanted?’I look at him quisitively.

 ‘As you like,’ he says and stands back for me to make a decision.

On the outside I look calm, apart from my eyes darting backwards and forwards, but inside I have the whole of the court house yelling a cacophony of completely, contradictory ideas. They are not right! They look like really old leather! You could take the new pair! Stay with the old pair! Would you believe these are really expensive shoes? Take just one, keep the other! I imagine a woman not concentrating at her shoe sewing machine. Was there no overseer? Is there not another pair that has nice leather all around it?

‘Is there another pair in the shop I could compare with?’

‘No,’ he says calmly (quite incredulously in my opinion), ‘these are the last, I saved them for you.’

I breathe in deeply, hoping to get some oxygen to the decision.

‘I’ll take the new right foot and keep my old left.’

‘As you like,’ he repeats.

As if in a sort of dream world, I take the new right shoe, give him my warm one and put them on my feet. I take off the little tag that tells customers about the values of real leather, and the warnings...and walk out of the shop. I feel like a prize wally. I just broke up a perfectly decent pair of shoes, and are they right now? I look down. They are hand-made and as I look more closely these hands on the right, had a different idea of dimension to the ones on the left. The stitching goes further up, the distance above the tongue is different, and is the colour exactly the same?

I stand there in St Anne’s Square, looking down at my shoes trying to use my heart. I stand there long enough to worry passerbys into thinking I’m a weirdo. But I can’t get my head around it. These are not perfect either - My dream - My Camper shoes!

Eventually I start to get too cold.

I return to the shop ‘I’ll just take my old shoe back. I’ve broken up a perfectly good pair you can sell, and they are no better than what I already have. You are right,’ I admit, proud of my lack of proudness ‘natural leather really does just vary.’

‘As you like,’ he says placidly. This has obviously been no rollercoaster for him, and gives me back the shoe that has been slowly shaping into the form of my individual, unique, foot.

‘Thank you’ I say. The skies have rightened themselves. The court house is happy at the justice and my heart suddenly realises, as if entering into a brand new field of vision: ‘Life is not perfect - it is as it is.’

And now I love my shoes even more. As I start to get freaked out about life not being as I have imagined it should be, as grapes are not lowered into my mouth, as I travel to Greece to sing but don’t get into the choir, as I wonder about a man and if he will be wonderful company both day and night, I start to realise that life is not as I imagine it. It is aspirin taste hard to swallow; it is hard to realise that what is in my head is not actually real.

And what is?

I walk around in my shoes, wondering about what I have thought and held to be God’s own Truth (capital t) just because I have thought it, and things start to emerge out of the woodwork.

A couple of weeks later I go for a walk by the sea, and in a moment of heart connection realise that the stories in my head are actually ego stories that support my whining complexes. Somehow it is comforting to be a victim. Somehow it is comforting to feel that I am not worthy. Somehow it is comforting to feel I am not loveable. I get something from it. It needs so little effort and excuses any real lack of responsibility to my own creation of life. I realise to maintain all these ego thoughts, all these self limiting belief systems, I need to create stories in my head. I like to daydream of perfect worlds and perfect shoes, and perfect relationships. And then I look on at the world around me and in the gap between what is, and what I would like it to be, I fill with monsters. 

I wonder, can I stop telling myself all these stories of doom and glory? Can I let go of my stories where I am who I think I am, along with the glorious victimhood, superior inferiority, of a misunderstood poet? Can I let go?

Well, yes, I say, I’ll give it a go...but like, erm, how do you start? Let go of ‘what’ exactly?

And it slowly dawns on me, as the sun begins to set, that I have to forgive the world, for not being perfect. As I sit there in the glory of nature, where the death of the seed creates the flower, where dry brittle stems co-exist between young spring green. Can I forgive?

Can I forgive people in my life for hurting me, for not being who I want them to be, for not being perfect? Can I...?

And as the sea breaks softly on the shore, breaking down hard rocks into sand, I feel myself slowly softening. Can I forgive people for being human?

Yes, of course I can! I feel an expanse in my chest, my heart is wonderfully dipped into deep peace as forgiveness floods through images of myself, and my stories of past pains dissolve into stories of humans doing their bestest and managed to wholly mess up. The facts of the past remain the same, but my perspective of them is suddenly very different. I realise that no-one wanted to cause me pain.

I sit there on the coastal path, and feel connected, feel expanded, feel more like I feel I am.

But still I am not done...I feel it in my bones...there is something more here...I look at my Camper shoes. And stay still, allowing the question to arise.

Add caption

I breathe in.

What is it?

I breathe out.

Slowly I start see my stories from the other’s point of view. I see my own actions not from my own story board, but from a higher place. I see that I have not been so absolutely perfect. It is shocking.
The questions come up fast and furiously calmly: Can I let go of my story that makes me ‘right’? Can I allow myself to be honest with myself? Can I forgive myself?

Uf. I dont’ know what you are talking about. What? I start to get tired of this internal conversation and feel an itch on my body. My leg hurts. I notice I am now sitting quite uncomfortably by a beautiful sea. Ohh what is going on over there? I peer into the distance as my left hand tries to remove a stone from under my buttocks.

The actual boat at the actual time (which is sort of evidence that I did actually take a photo...again, my story not quite in line with reality).

Peering at that little boat on the horizon ideas continue to come into me. I realise that I straight-jacket myself into trying to be so f%*king perfect. And when I’m not I come down like ton of bricks on my own head. I push people away. I don’t like it: it is not my dream; it is not perfect; it is not what I have imagined.

But can I forgive myself? I continue, pressing myself for an answer. Can I forgive myself for not being perfect every minute of every day...?

I want to float off, and pretend that I want only to look at the white clouds in the ohh so blue sky. I wonder about taking a photo.

But I don’t. I continue with task. I realise that if I can forgive others for absolutely messing up so much so they get a Scout’s badge for being so terribly imperfect, then, well, actually, yes, I can forgive myself too.

If I can forgive others for just being imperfectly human, I can forgive myself for being an imperfect human?

Yes. I say suddenly letting all this weight of heavy stories float off my shoulders. Yes I can, and, Yes I do.

Feeling almost weightless, apart from a slightly numb bottom, I float in a cloud of love and feel really, really good. Feeling just how I want to feel normally. Thinking ‘this is real’, this is being alive, this is being true.

Nothing is perfect, not me, not them, not this world. It is, just, as it is.

And in this wonder of experiencing deep forgiveness, I brush off the little stones and branches from my grateful bottom, and continue walking in my naturally disparate leather shoes barely discernible within the picture of the whole.