Roads Left in My Shoes

April 27, 2007

I do believe it’s true that there are roads left in both of our shoes.
                    — Ben Gibbard, b. 1976
                        American singer-songwriter 

There’s no way to check this, but it’s quite possible that I am the only person who has ever quoted Death Cab for Cutie (twice) at a religious retreat. I am certainly the only one among my silent companions this week who had even heard of Death Cab for Cutie.

The work suggested for today in the retreat plan was the most difficult by far. On Tuesday we’d each chosen a shard of pottery from a tray, although we hadn’t been given much direction as to what to do with it. My habit of mind being what it is (I can find meaning in the way the cream swirls up in my coffee in the morning), I took my shard and really got to know it, producing three separate drawings of it along with text about what its rough edges and one smooth area along the top might symbolize.

Yesterday afternoon we were told to bring the shard along to the next session. And this morning, after a lengthy meditation on loss and change, we were told to put it back in the basket and choose a stone from a tray set on the floor.

After three more drawings and several pages of mourning the loss of my shard of broken pottery (as well as some other tasks on the same themes that required some deep soul-searching — all of this on the day the west elevator broke), I arrived for the afternoon session to find that my companions had all experienced some degree of discomfort and disorientation on having to undergo this very small, nearly inconsequential loss. In fact, the day had been so packed with hard, mind-expanding work that we had our first touchy-feely sharing session.

And that’s how I was able to introduce Death Cab for Cutie to a group of 60-, 70-, and 80-somethings. (I did not refer to “West Coast theologian Ben Gibbard,” although I could hold forth about how references to shoes run like a leitmotif through his work.) We’ve all had to give up things that we thought defined us — work we loved, a house that was familiar, relationships we lost through distance, death, or estrangement. The “toxic ager” folds her hands and says, oh woe is me, my life is over, I can’t go on. The strong and centered elder folds her hands and says thank you for so much so often, what’s next?

I have important new work to do. Among other things, there are the six books I know are in me. A friend and I have joked about winning Pulitzers by 2010. If we’re going to carpool to the awards ceremony, I’d best get busy on at least one of them.

There are roads left in my shoes.

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