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When The Shoes Run Away

Once upon a time, I wrote letters and I remembered people's names. 

Last year I determined to do so again. 

I want to be thoughtful; to put the right thoughts into my heart.

Somebody told me, "How are you able to offer what people need if you're not putting yourself in other people's shoes?"

Feeling misjudged, I wanted to retort, "But why must my own shoes not matter? Am I only to be judged by how I'm failing, my own insecurities disregarded?" 

I never said those words, but I felt them for a long time. Bitterly. Part of me did want to be kind and understanding. But a large part of me wanted to be understood. And so, I stubbornly kept my worthless shoes on and refused to try on anyone else's. 

(Isn't this a weird analogy? I mean who seriously wants to swap shoes? I don't want most people putting their feet into my shoes, I know. And my sarcastic self keeps thinking, "And it would be so pointless to try and walk around in some of those large, heavy men's shoes. Anyway, most of them are running too fast for me to even try and steal their shoes for myself for a moment of trying on")

Ah, but I did want to be kind. I wanted to want to be kind. I wanted to forget about my own feet and feelings. 

Why couldn't I? Why could I only see my intentions and their actions? And even when I thought I could understand their intentions, my own actions still further worsened the situation. Somehow, I lost a best friend of years, knowing it was my fault. And I couldn't even put myself in her shoes, because I had no idea where they were anymore as she left.

And so the story repeated itself until I wished I'd shredded my shoes and just put on those others.

When I went to visit my grandma, I told her, "I  really want to be mannerly and hospitable. But I offend people not even realizing it. I don't even know what to do because I don't know what it is I ought to be thinking to do."

"Some of it you find out through experience," Grandma said. 

I nodded. While on my road trip, I discovered that one of the most hospitable acts was not to be given some grand tour or full-course meal right off but to be shown to the restroom. I told my Grandma this, then added, "But isn't there a way for me to know some of these things without having to experience them for myself? I can't experience everything before I might need to do the right thing for someone else."

Grandma laughed at my dilemma, but then said, "And this is why you need your grandparents. Some things can only be learned by being taught.

And so we discussed etiquette and manners that are somehow still relevant in our 21st century. I'm not sure I learned many specifics. But I finally thought it might be possible to walk in other's shoes.

* * *

I think I should take a moment to say something. I was raised with a bit of an anabaptist influence. We were taught to be respectful, but not to bother with silly man-made manners such as saying "thank you", "please", "Mr", "Mrs", etc. I read many stories of how it was wrong to bow down, offer up a chair, remove one's hat, anything that showed partiality to another.

I laughed when my best friend addressed my letters "Miss Keturah", but I had no real qualms with our upbringing until I left home and was confronted publicly by an elderly man because he felt I'd disrespected his age by calling him by his first name. I'm afraid all I took from the experience was to decide to never call him anything at all. And so I did for months until I repented of my pride and addressed him as he requested. 

Several other such instances made me question my philosophy on respect. A certain man was worried I might call his parents by their first names. I was so scared, that when he brought me to meet them I didn't call them anything. In Germany, I offended my first family by not saying thank you enough. And yet, the word did grow to have a certain distaste in my ears as I often heard it accompanied by the f-word. 

External manners have not come naturally to me. And yet, aspects of them have always fascinated me. When I was fourteen, I wrote hoping that when I was older I might be more "mannerly", whatever I meant by that I have no clear idea.

Now, I realize, I do not want manners so that I might appear any certain way, but so I might serve people in a way that they feel served. And so it is not manners I am seeking, but how I might serve people to satisfy some need that is ever changed by the particular individual I am faced with. 

* * *

I still at times care for my shoes too much. Overall, I'm beginning to see how dirty they, too, can be. I still don't know if I want to completely walk in someone else's shoes. I'd rather us both gallivant barefooted alongside some wild-flower path. I'll try to understand if they keep their shoes on. 

On a serious note, I'm finding two main things that help for finding the shoes to walk in. 

  •  Remember people's names the first time they tell you. 
    • When I remember their name, I'm better able to listen to the rest of what they say and ask appropriate questions to know how to better suit any needs that may arise. Simply put, I become familiar with their shoes. I'm sure I still fail as they know their own feet more intimately. But I am at least attuned, trying, obviously desiring to supply whatever it is they need. 
  •  Write thank-you notes. 
    • When I write a thank you note, even for the most trivial of gestures, I am forced to be grateful for small things. And aren't the small things what matter most? I encourage these people in their own pursuits, and so overall goodwill is multiplied. For fun, I wrote a thank you letter to every person I visited on my road trip back in November (picture above). I followed some advice given to me by Mrs. Campbell, "When writing a thank you letter, never use a card that already has words and do not say only thank you. Thank them for the specific gift, and tell them why you are thankful, and make the note personable. Bulk it up with many words of thanks, but in a way that is enjoyable for the reader." (paraphrased). 

It seems now that I am more determined to throw away my shoes I am finding that I have quite a lot of them that I wish to keep and that I like mine better than anyone else's. And maybe I am getting much too sarcastic and carried away with this metaphor of shoes. 

That's another thing. I'm finding I have less need for sarcasm in my interactions. It seems to shut doors prematurely. I find when I am using sarcasm I am admiring my own wit and not considering how it might sound to another, and more so, might even be degrading. I wouldn't say I am throwing out sarcasm altogether. I am just trying to deepen my satire so that it is more tastefully constructed, void of any pointless, cruel insults. I find I can't defend conversational sarcasm like I once did. 

I still need to remember names and write more letters. 

I still have more shoes to find and try on. 

I still have much to learn about kindness, and much pride to swallow. 

I wouldn't really say I'm doing better. To be honest, this post is more of a, "Here is where I am. I'm very overwhelmed by some of the failures, but spurred on by some successes. I still think of myself much too often."

What is your stance on manners and etiquette? Do you remember people's names? Have you ever written a letter or thank-you card? Has some wise, elderly person ever offered you a piece of advice on how to think of others better? Please share! 


  1. This was a very interesting post, Keturah. Our parents made sure we said "thank you" and we often said "please", but we usually don't call people "Mr/Mrs" unless they ask us to or we don't know them well. (My friend said in Scotland they don't say Mr/Mrs.) I love writing letters, and my mother always makes sure we write thank-you cards as necessary.

    1. Yeah, a lot of places don't say Mr and Mrs. Yet, it's interesting to learn that nearly every place still has some formalities they value highly ;d I love writing letters so much! And I think the best part of thank you letters is making the cards, then getting to be creative with the words!!

  2. KETURAH YOU'RE BACK. (And I'm back, too.) And it's such a joy to see you reflecting and maturing and blossoming. "I'm very overwhelmed by some of the failures, but spurred on my some successes." I relate to that, sister. So hard. Particularly the first half of it. :D Don't get discouraged; we've all got a long way to go, and realizing that is the first step in getting there.

    When it comes to manners, I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum: I'm SO painfully polite that I can sometimes feel it stifling my conversations. Not with friends, but with strangers. It's something I need to work on. :P But I'm very appreciative of manners, particularly the terms "sir" and "ma'am." It smooths social interactions and is civilizing somehow. Chesterton has some good lines on courtesy in his book on St. Francis of Assisi; the root of courtesy is seeing someone as a terribly important person and deferring to them out of charity/humility. St. Francis had that respect even for the beggar; Chesterton says he saw himself as the only servant in a hall of kings. Now THAT kind of courtesy is something I'd like to aspire to. :)

    1. You know, I was so sad to see you leave just as I returned! So glad to we're both back and ready more than ever to tackle all the fun, hard things of life.

      We should do a collab where you're Chesterton and I'm some lowly Anabaptist furniture maker and we debate the virtues and vices of respecting our fellowman! I do think I now agree with Chesterton most, but still, for a moment, I can pretend otherwise. It would be grand!

  3. I love this post so much, Keturah! <3

    "I do not want manners so that I might appear any certain way, but so I might serve people in a way that they feel served." <-- this quote was EXACTLY what I needed to hear today, thank you :D

    1. Ah, thanks!!! That makes me happy to hear, Nicole!!

  4. Great post!

    I was raised to always say please and thank you. I always tend to be almost too polite with people when I first meet them. Like I'll apologize for someone else's mistake.

    1. Oddly enough, I do say sorry too much now, too! Working on not doing that anymore though. ;D

  5. I am in the same situation as Megan, as I am so polite that things can get a little awkward, lol. But, I was raised to be very polite and I am really grateful for it. I know that saying "thank you" can really brighten someone's day. For example, when I go downhill skiing my sisters and I always say thank you to the chair lift attendants. No one seems to notice them, so they are always surprised to be talked to. Because you go up the lift a lot of times in one day, then after that first "thank you" they will say (sometimes) something back to you and we have fun little five second conversations! On the flip side, sometimes we say polite words too much as all of us have had times where someone asks us why we say "sorry" so much. I don't mind. ;) I save sarcasm for people I know really well but it makes me laugh when I hear others use it! The point about manners being so we can serve others is a brilliant point! A thought provoking post, Keturah!

    1. Oh, five second conversations are always the best! I love sarcasm too ... when it's not cruel, I've come yo realize. So glad you enjoyed this :)

  6. This is so interesting! I was raised just the opposite regarding manners: ALWAYS say please and thank you, and NEVER call an adult by their first name unless they ask you to. And even then, for years, I would just avoid calling those adults anything because saying their first name sounded so weird to me. I actually find it odd to call people by their first names in general, my age or adults. I can do it in writing, but I actually find it very difficult to do in person. Something about it feels too familiar to me, though I don't know why.

    Thank you cards are a hard one for me! I only remember really writing them once, after a birthday party I had when I turned 9. They just weren't a huge thing in my house, so I never really know when they're expected and when they aren't.

    It is a complicated thing to try and walk in other people's shoes. It's impossible to please everyone, and yet, you at least want to show that you're making an effort to meet another person where they are. Yet, what is a great effort to you may seem like nothing at all--or even be offensive--to them. I struggle with that aspect as well: I want to be kind and polite, but I often feel as though my efforts may not be coming off quite right. I guess a lot of it does just come with experience and growing up, as your grandmother said, but it's uncomfortable to be in that stage where you often don't know what to do.


    1. I love calling people by their first names! I love feeling that bond and seeing their eyes light up as someone knows their name! Of course, I've come to realize some older people do not like that, and so I try to love calling them what they prefer. I suppose I love the familiarity that most people don't. I feel a closer kinship with more elderly people than people my own age, haha!

      Thank you cards is actually something I've always done! Just as of late, all letters have taken back burner. I will send a thank you card over ANYTHING!

      Yeah, if only effort mattered most! And if grandmas were always next door, close on hand. May we both continue to learn and grow with experience!


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