On Shining Boots

Shoe Polish It’s not the kind of thing I would normally do. Still, I was in a hotel room, in Germany, with no children (outside of my body that is), no worksheets to look over and no heart to steward but my own. Out-of-the-ordinary was more inevitable than improbable. So, there I was, under the watchful tutelage of my husband (who is apparently good at everything) learning how to shine boots.

He had bought them for me over a year ago and I couldn’t help but notice that they were starting to look worse for the wear. Still, they were a gift and structurally sound thus, when I stumbled upon a tin of shoe shine while packing, I threw it in the suitcase and decided I would perhaps revive them. I was skeptical though. The boots weren’t super high-end anyway and had definitely crossed from black to more of a charcoal. With the depressed looking footwear now in front of me (and regardless of my tutor’s enthusiastic reminiscing on the topic) it did not look like an enjoyable endeavor. Why of all things did I start with boots? This is going to take forever. I should just buy new ones. 

But it had taken us nearly ten minutes to get the tin open, the room was already rank with polish odor and I didn’t have any other good shoes to go out in to buy new boots so- onward! Shortly after I began, the husband had to leave for a short meeting. He departed with me, arm already aching, perched in the corner chair with a look of disgust on my face. An hour later he returned to find me in the exact same spot, doing the exact same thing. But now a proud smile stretched across my face.

“Time to go.” he says.

“But I want to go back and re-do my first boot. It’s not nearly as good as the second! I just finally figured out what I’m doing! I just need like 15 more minutes.”

He laughs. “It’s therapeutic isn’t it?”

“Yes! I’m hooked! Look at how good these look!”

He laughs again.

I resigned, washed my hands, pulled on my new-old boots and off we went down the puddle ridden streets of Berlin. It is a city where history has collided with new-age shine. A little like my boots. And despite all the exciting moments encompassed in exploring one of the world’s great cities I kept going back to that quiet hour before we left. It was simple- poignant and seemed to draw out so many little truths. I find myself endeavoring to hold them in my mind and let them reshape me. And so I share:

Virtues in Shoe Shining:

 1. Marry up. Really. Don’t settle in a life partner. Find someone who is hardworking, skilled, compassionate and committed. Find someone who will be an asset to the things you want to do or learn to do and invest in them. Marriage is work, life is work but you get to choose your co-worker so find someone who you want to work along-side of and who can contribute something useful to your body, soul and spirit. P.S. Knowing how to shine boots is not necessarily the bar to reach for here.

2. A little manual labor goes a long way. We have become a largely intellectual species. Certainly as a culture we are far more cerebral than physical. I believe this pulls us out of touch with our world and inevitably ourselves. Too much time in the mind, lends to creating realities that do not actually exist and are not helpful in shaping the world around us. No matter how creative, or brilliant one is, it’s best to touch down every now and then and just put your hand to something. A tangible outcome is rewarding on many levels. Furthermore, busy hands sometimes free the mind to do it’s best work.

3. Don’t stop when it hurts. My wrist and fingers were sore within three minutes of starting on those silly shoes. But ten minutes into it the discomfort was gone. Sometimes pain is really just the ache of disuse being pushed from our lives. The sputtering of a motor that’s sat all winter. Give it some gas and keep going. It won’t hurt forever.

4. Be quiet. Seriously. Shut off the music, the TV, your mind, your children (I know, I know, sometimes you have to fly to a different continent to do it) and just be still. Nature has it’s own noise and it’s far loud enough without all of our artificial clanging over top of it. Find silence and remain there. It resets the soul and reconnects us to that deeper reality.

5. Practice makes perfect. My first few dips into that little tin were awkward at best. Not really a hard skill but inexperience is exactly that, and even simple skills have a learning curve. So keep at it. By the time I was done I had become strikingly more proficient. If you want to get good at something than keep doing it. Repetition is the surest way to improvement with few exceptions.

6. Make time. With our fifth child on the way, time has become the commodity I prize nearly the most. Simplicity is often the deciding factor in how I manage our household. It’s a little bit of a “cut the fluff” mentality. But this easily crosses into an “it’s not worth it” mentality and so if I can spend five minutes buying new boots instead of two hours shining up old ones well… But, some things are worth the time. Identifying those things may take more than one pass on our value scanner. We may need to pull back from the knee jerk reaction to say “I don’t have time” and start saying “How can I make time”. And there is always time… if you make it.

7. Don’t discard what simply needs to be maintained. Especially when it is a gift. I once read an account of a couple married some fifty years. When asked “how did you do it?” the man replied simply “Easy. We come from an age when if something was broke, you didn’t throw it out, you fixed it.” Many things in our life are dull, not because they are broken, but because they need some loving care. Don’t throw them out. Not boots. Not people. Not dreams. They are gifts. Maintain them and they will shine.