For most of my adolescence and a good portion of my adult life, I was a practicing quaker—a protestant religion, usually referred to as the “Society of Friends.”
The meeting which I attended primarily focused on silent meditation, mindfulness and the importance of humility.
Learning to dress “down” was a very difficult task for me as a teenager, since high school fashion seemed to be the way to find friends—or so I thought at the time. True friends came out years later when I learned to look within, and find my own identity without using fashion trends to define me. But it was a long road and I learned something the hard way early on in my adulthood—my first year of college.
The year was 1999 and I was working in the library at the local college as a work-study student. I made about six dollars an hour and usually had little to no money left at the end of each pay period due to rent and tuition payments so my lunches were small and consisted of vending machine fare that equalled a dollar (usually goldfish crackers and a Sprite).
Being a student, I didn’t have a lot of money for clothes, but I had found a pair of sandals that looked very much like a popular style at the time (they rhyme with Lurkenstock) and they were about $85 less than the name brand.
Excited to be fashionable, I wore them every single day. Hot, sweaty sandals that after three weeks in an Arizona Summer suddenly weren’t so fresh any longer. Embarrassed I realized that I would need to purchase some odor absorbing pads to go in the shoes at night so that I could wear them without the shame of blaming the smell on whomever noticed it, which at the time was a male coworker, who for the purposes of anonymity, I will refer to as “John.” John was an ass.
In any case, after perusing the large selection of insoles that were both confusing and overpriced, I purchased these thin, green odor eating pads that were to be cut to the shape and size of your foot and then placed in the shoe. (I suppose I should have taken into account that my shoes had open toes, but it did not occur to me that it would be an issue.)
Unaware as to whether I was supposed to wear the shoes with the insoles or not, I erred on the side of olfactory caution, and wore them inside.
The college I attended was quite large, and required a lot of walking to get from one side to the other so in order to get my tiny vending machine lunch, I had to walk almost all the way across campus which could take up to 15 minutes of my 30 minute lunch break. Not wanting to waste any time, I would often eat my lunch on the walk back, sometimes at a slow jog. I was quite the multitasker.
One fine summer day, as I was walking back to the library, I heard a crack of thunder, and it began to rain. Concerned that I would get wet, I began to run, stomping through quickly growing rain puddles, and pushing past students who were enjoying the rare Summer downpour.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something amazing. Snow! Snow in June! Tempe, Arizona! I couldn’t believe it. I looked to my left and right, and sure enough flurries were all around me, swirling in a frenzy. Excited, I shouted out: “It’s snowing! It’s snowing! It’s amazing!” Everyone I passed would get the same exuberant, “Can you believe this? It’s snowing!” although no one replied as I thought they would excited to be part of an historic moment in Arizona weather anomalies.
Slowing down my run to a jog as I approached the library doors, I noticed that the snow flurries had stopped. I looked behind me and there was no snow on the ground. Had it melted on contact? Probably, I thought.
I was still getting odd stares despite stopping my excited yelling to each group of students that I passed. And while I had done my best to run through the storm, I had ended up quite wet. My feet, well….my feet were especially wet, and I didn’t know what to do. Should I take my shoes off before entering the library?
As I looked down at my feet, dread began to overtake me. My feet—my shoes—all covered in a heavy white foam.
Whatever the hell kind of chemical reaction had occurred between my nasty shoes, the odor eater pads and the rain had caused some sort of fluffy foamy mess. To make matters worse, the green odor eater pads had been pushed out the front of my sandals by the movement caused by my exhilarating run across campus. This caused the green pads to look like giant wet tongues sticking out the front of my sandals.
It suddenly occurred to me that my romp through a snowstorm was simply shoe foam from my oder-eaters flying up around my face and head as I ran. This explained the stares.
Dejected and embarrassed, I entered the library and walked as quickly as I could towards the ladies room to fix the problem with paper towels. Hoping that no one would see me, I walked quickly while my foamy green insoles were lapping at the floor. *squelch squelch squelch*
My coworker John was at the desk and had looked up to find me coming in. I walked faster, hoping he would not see nor mention my appearance. *squelch squelch squelch*
The green tongues now appeared to be licking the floor with each step, and the foam was still present and accounted for.
My coworker looked down at the noise, and saw my shoes. Bursting out laughing, he asked what I had walked through. “Water”, I mumbled as I began jogging towards the restroom, sliding to a stop on the tile. *squelch squelch squelch*
Once inside the ladies room, I looked into the mirror: foam covered not only my feet, but also my hair and clothing. There was no getting away from this. As I dejectedly pulled out a wad of paper towels from the dispenser, I replayed the scene in my mind: Running across campus in a heavy downpour, foaming at the feet and calling out to anyone who might not have otherwise noticed my snowy foam bath. I remembered all the stares as I called out “It’s snowing!” and I cringed.
Successfully wiping down my feet, legs, and rinsing my face off, I slowly walked back behind the library reserve desk. My coworker was in his chair surfing the internet and appeared to be ignoring me. Thankful for his silence, I took my seat and began labeling children’s books as part of a project I was doing for the library.
Without even glancing over, my coworker said with a smirk, “I heard you went through a snowstorm.” Shit. “My feet, they…” I stopped, realizing there was no answer that wasn’t humiliating or disgusting and certain to be used against me in the future. “Just do the damn book returns and leave me alone,” I snapped at him. He pivoted his chair back towards the counter, and ignoring my suggestion, continued surfing his email account, a slappable smirk on his face.
That night when I got home, I had to make the decision to throw away the shoes. It was painful, as I had really liked them and they were no longer being sold. I also had very little money and could not afford another pair, but they were ghastly.
They went into the trashcan with a “thud”, and I went and washed my hands.
The offending shoes were now gone. The next day I wore flip flops.
My lesson in humility was complete at the expense of a great deal of embarrassment. But I find that laughing at myself is the easiest way to have a learning experience for I can handle laughter and enjoyment far more than embarrassment.
The message is to be yourself—your wonderful, beautiful, awkward self—and love you for you.
Author: Kristen Medchill
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Maria Morri/Flickr