Yesterday, was all blue skies and glorious, golden sunshine when Geoff and I headed down to Sydney’s Kirribilli, lured away by the magnificent views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and the harbour itself. This is the third post inspired by this trip. So, might I suggest that if you can get yourself down to Kirribilli (or your local equivalent), your efforts could be well re-worded.
After lunch, we walked down Broughton Street towards the harbour. After undergoing some nasty tests on my lungs and responding badly, I was naturally concerned about the steep decent and whether I could make it back up. Indeed, as we marched enthusiastically down the hill, Geoff even voiced these concerns: “what goes down, has to climb backup,” he said.
However, “oh me of little breath” powered ahead just like the the “Little Engine that Could”. I’ve done that: “I think I can. I think I can. I know I can” up many a hill or flight of stairs before. I might be turning blue and gasping for air, but you can’t “carpe diem seize day” from the couch. You need to have a go! Besides, (and I didn’t tell him this), he could always go and fetch the car. After all, even the best of generals has a “Plan B”. On the other hand, giving up before you try is, of course, an automatic fail.
While we were walking back up the hill via Alfred Street, I spotted a random pair of black workman’s boots sitting on the corner of Alfred and Fitzroy Streets just back from the curb.
Now, if you’re someone who is focused and gets straight to the point, you’ll probably find my reflections on this pair of boots quite random. Or, you’ll even accuse me of over-thinking things again. However, on the other hand, it could equally be a virtue to find meaning and purpose in seemingly insignificant little things – especially in a place overshadowed by two of the great modern architectural wonders of the world, and one of the world’s most beautiful harbours.
Moreover, being “creative”, I couldn’t help thinking about how these worn, ordinary work boots must feel glancing up at the magnificent steel arches and towering granite pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge? Then, as if they didn’t already have a massive inferiority complex, across the harbour there’s the Sydney Opera House with her magnificent white sails glowing in the sunlight at the very top end of town! It must be hard for those work boots to feel that meaning and purpose aren’t just confined to the big wigs, and the flashy, strutting peacocks of life. That an old, discarded pair of work boots couldn’t possibly have anything worthwhile to say. Moreover, you can also understand how people feel like that way too.
However, it wasn’t just their simple ordinariness which attracted my attention to the boots, and you’ve no doubt noticed this yourself. They’re round the wrong way, back-to-front. Mixed up. Odd. So, if you were mad enough to try to step inside these boots and see what it was like to walk in their shoes, your legs would be heading off at cross-purposes and you’d fall smack – face down on the pavement.
By the way, there’s also another reason why I probably noticed the boots. I’ve had to learn to walk again twice. In my mid-20’s, I found out I’d been born with a harbour inside my head, and I was a lot more than “anxious”. Indeed, when the hydrocephalus was at its worst before I had a shunt put in to relieve the pressure, leaving a pair of boots around the wrong way would’ve been the very least of my problems. I have definitely tried walking in a wonky pair of boots that made no sense to anyone including myself. I also know what it is to be THE STRANGER, and not just someone unfamiliar.
So, how are we supposed to respond to these boots? Do we look at those boots and judge?
For many, it would be just too tempting to simply rearrange them. Make them right, just like you’d re-adjust a crooked picture frame until it was straight. However, I didn’t rearrange the boots and much to my later annoyance, I didn’t move the dead leaves out of the shot either. Moreover, if we’re really getting stuck into straightening things up and going for all out perfection, I wish I’d had my digital SLR camera with me instead of my phone. I am a photographic snob from way back. I also wished I’d got down lower for the shot. However, the boots were right on the curb and I didn’t want to risk being runover on Fitzroy Street just to take a photo. (That’s a first).
In addition to thinking about how the worn-out, back-to-front work boot people of this world feel in the shadow of greatness, these boots also made me think of how we respond to the apparent rejects and oddballs we come across through life. Do we as individuals (rather than the “royal we” where we can hide) offer them shelter and invite them in? Or, do we lock them out by whatever means is at our disposal be it a glance, a door, harsh words, a diagnosis, prescription drugs or a prison cell?
However, when you give these boots a second glance, they’re scuffed, but they’re not worn out. They’ve been positioned carefully beside the road as a pair, even if they are back-to-front. Anybody could just walk up to those boots and set them straight. It wouldn’t take much, although perhaps you might be worried that who ever left them there, is watching. That they might misconstrue your good intentions and attack. You might also pop back down and speak to the supervisor on the work site beneath the bridge and see if anyone’s lost their boots. Reuniting the boots with their owner would be a noble thing. Indeed, perhaps those boots aren’t so unloved after all. Their owner might just be careless…or a teenager.
However, that’s the point, isn’t it?! No one knows anyone else’s story without asking AND without listening. You can’ t even judge a pair of back-to-front boots by their cover, let alone a person.
I have been reminded over and over again about the capacity of people to show love and even self-sacrifice to a stranger, especially someone in need. I have had a couple of spectacular falls in public places well away from home. Both times, I was using my walking stick so it was clear I had mobility issues. Both times, I’d hurt myself quite badly and had nasty grazes on my knee, was bleeding and needing a plaster. Last year, I had a nasty fall outside a nearby school. Passers-by, were quick to stop and render assistance, along with the inevitable question about an ambulance. A man headed off to his car and returned with a medical kit. Gave me saline to clean it, and the big sticking plaster. You know… the only big one which comes with the medical kit. Meanwhile, a teacher returned with ice and drove me down to McDonalds where I was meeting a friend. They were so kind!!
Yet, at the same time, the so-called weirdo who might not put their boots together in quite the right way, probably gets a much harder time of it. Indeed, it’s not just the strangers who reject them, but their nearest and dearest. The people who know them. Or, more to the point, don’t want to know them – the rejects. Somehow, we need to ensure there’s a place for them. A place for them in our families, our schools, our Churches, our streets. We don’t need to lock them up. They don’t need to self-medicate because they feel unloved, misunderstood, outcast. Love might not be enough to save everyone from genetics, society, bad luck or themselves, but it certainly goes a long way.
There’s still so much life left in these back-to-front workman’s boots, and I really hope they’re not still sitting there beside the road. That someone has taken them home.
Meanwhile, our son has invited “the boys” over tomorrow afternoon. He has no idea how many are coming, but I’ve made a pavlova, Mars Bar Slice and figure we can order pizza. After all, home is where the heart is and where real connections are forged.
What are your thoughts on the boots under the bridge? I’d love to hear from you.