A last pair of shoes

How do you buy shoes that last?  My grandfather always seemed to wear  the same shoes. Not the same pair. Like all things, they eventually needed replacing. Each pair got demoted when the new ones arrived. Sunday shoes, well polished, lived by the front door. From there they began a slow march through the kitchen to the back porch and out into the shed where the oldest lived in a box, occasionally to be selected for digging potatoes. I started a little like this – searching online for another pair of the dusty brown ankle boots I so love wearing, comfortable, easy on the feet.  But, two pairs in, both now letting water in at the bottom, (and squeaking) the second hand sources seem to have dried up. In need of some inspiration of where to look next I thought of Lloyd, a friend and colleague who died suddenly last December.  I don’t really want a trail of discarded shoes. What I really would like is a pair that would last and be able to be repaired.  When someone dies and the true sense of loss begins to dawn, hopefully too the legacy of the person who died begins to show through more strongly.  Lloyd’s legacy to me, so far, is a pair of shoes. Or, at least, the inspiration of how and where to look.   He was fastidious in his research from beloved cars to pairs of jeans the latter made in Wales to last – the Hiut Jeans no-wash club meant that in Lloyd’s freezer amongst the frozen peas you may have found at least one pair of Jeans. Products designed to last or be repaired (and for free from Hiut). 

So with Lloyd’s inspiration I began the search.  It didn’t take long to find a company in Machynlleth RED, Ruth Emily Davey, who by hand, make shoes to fit your feet. They are made to last and be repairable.  This was not going to be a fast transaction click and collect.  Arriving at RED in the town of Machynlleth I felt a rather nostalgic wave of ‘small boy outside a toy shop’ nose pressed to the window soaking up an image of the all too wonderful things that were within but, out of reach. Entering that space, the world slowed, the colours more vivid somehow than the bright morning out of which I had just stepped.  With tea and gentle conversation we reflected and shared stories of loss. Mine of Lloyd who’s inspiration had brought me here. Ruth’s of Alan, mentor and friend who had died earlier in the year. Feet were duly measured, leathers and linings chosen from those carefully displayed around me.  I’m too soon for the local leather, grown and tanned not three miles from the centre of the town. Perhaps I’ll have to come again for a truly Welsh pair. However, I break from my dusty brown. The new soft leather drab green boots are enlivened with a flash of colour in the stitching and lining and will be ready in around five weeks. In honour of this timescale I should take the bus to collect them, or perhaps the train. If we’ve learnt anything over the past year it is that hurrying life onwards does us no favours. If the economy is to recover then those businesses who promote local skilled workers with repairable products ought to win our trust.

On a warm showery day at the end of June I return to collect two pairs of shoes. The first a repaired pair of the old dusty brown. I couldn’t quite let them go. So it seems they will have a new lease of life with repaired sides and new soles. I’m offered the new boots wrapped within an elegant box. Ruth’s smile that of creator, curator of a moment in which Christmas and birthday unwrappings are found wanting reminds me of gifts from children eager to see the reaction to what they have made. Within are a beautiful pair of feet shaped boots. I always thought I had wide feet – I don’t particularly.  I have feet shaped feet and Ruth’s shoes are built to match. The leather is soft, these are not work boots but for occasions when you want your feet to be cradled comfortably within. My hand knitted socks catch on the new suede lining. I’ll need to unlace and lace these properly I hear my grandfather’s voice telling me. Once within though the close fit is quite unlike wearing shoes at all, more like a part of me through which I can feel the ground, yet at the same time be gently protected. I guess they are an expression of the wearer a drab green exterior with a little of the colour within exposed. I’ll wear them with the top eyelet open, to allow a little more of the brightness out. ‘Will you wear them now?’ Ruth asks. Of course!  I leave the shop in new shoes with the old pair tucked away in the box destined for potato digging and recycling in the shed.

An Extraordinary Ordinary Morning

The season of Epiphany continues and we are gently encouraged to pay attention these January days in this playful discourse between Nathaniel, Philip and Jesus In our Gospel reading today from John 1. 43-51 (Can anything good come out of Nazareth? well, Come and see!) The story moves quickly from the ordinary – sitting under a fig tree to the extraordinary, the Angels ascending and descending – a nod to the story of Jacob. The passage calls us to come and see, just as Nathaniel is encouraged to challenge his first statement, then Jesus, I saw you sitting there.  He was noticed.  It is no coincidence that we are reading passages during Epiphany which recognise Jesus as the Messiah.  I wonder whether we are looking in the ordinary places and expecting a glimpse of the extraordinary? Are we looking this Epiphany for a glimpse of the Christ amongst us around us on in our natural environment perhaps.  I wonder if we are able with everything else that is going on to look beyond the bad news.  It was a sharp, crisp and clear morning the sky is streaked with gold and I know the light has come. It is a soft light at first as the Earth turns. Light clouds are immaculately turned out as if to welcome it, ruffled neatly in wave after wave of white on pale blue ready to be dispersed in a moment as the suns rays came upon them. The deep orange glow builds through the mountains illuminating, reflecting from cloud, lake and hillside. A hue Matched only by the oak and beach leaves that have stubbornly held on to their branches. It cannot be long before they finally fall this spring.  As I run by a Tree Creeper seeks breakfast on one of their lakeside trunks.  Across the lake a wistful mist rises as a lone swimmer cuts through the water ‘I am told’ it is around four degrees – she’ll not be in for long then.  The swans leading last year’s signets have outdone her and are waiting for me as I arrive at the other end of the lake after what was for them a seemingly effortless journey. The light continues to brighten. A second light takes over now and as the orange glow fades and the earth turns on, a little ice clinging to the highest peaks as a plume of cloud springs up from their midst. The light is fuller encompassing all things as I return home through the trees.  Only after all this does the sun itself make an appearance finally breaking the horizon and bringing a little warmth on its low January day.  A bright morning helps to lift the spirits just as much as it helps to illuminate the day.  An ordinary occurrence but truly extraordinary as well. Come and see.  Here, today, we are anxious about our health and wellbeing and I wonder how much this stops us from seeing all this is going on around us as if nothing else mattered. The world is going about its business unmoved by our anxieties, they are typically human concerns.  As we hear the discourse between Philip, Jesus and Nathaniel we see Jesus move the conversation on from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the outward seeing – Philip’s invitation to Come and See which leads to Jesus’s own, that inner seeing ‘I saw you under the Fig Tree’ which is much more profound an inner seeing moving from the gentle jibing that the reading began with to the heavens opened.  I wonder, where do we look, and what do we take notice of? Where do we see those glimpses of the extraordinary even in these days. Are we prepared to see both outwardly and inwardly for the extraordinary amidst the ordinary concerns of life.  It is clear we are not done being taught a lesson by nature, neither are we done trying to work our own way out of it, yet we are still called to turn aside, to come and see in the ordinary moments which may just turn out to be quite extraordinary as we live through them.

Out of the darkness comes…

Dear Santa Claus, St. Nick, Sant Claus, Bishop Nicolas of Myra died AD343 origin of the fable of fables, Story of stories, giver of gifts by stealth, childhood fantasy of dreams and visions, nighttime visitor, time engineer extraordinaire, magical mystery maker, bringer of wishes, keeper of ‘The List’ – Naughty and Nice.

Children wait in their beds half sleeping, half dreaming of satsumas and chocolate coins, (well, now I’m dreaming). Cutting through the darkness, expected to come for nothing less than to fulfil our deepest desires and for a mince pie, sherry and carrot for the reindeer.  Did you too get fed this story as a child or were your parents brave enough to tell you the truth?  That there is no Christmas unless we make it happen for ourselves. We can blame others this year that they’ve ‘cancelled Christmas’ but no-one cancels it unless we do it to ourselves. So, it’s up to us to be witnesses to the light in the darkest of times. It’s our task again this year to bring to birth the Christ child, the true light that was and is coming into the world.

But all we have is this darkness to work with.  The darkness I’m told is an absence of light. Is that all? I must disagree to say into the void that the darkness is so much more. A place of beginning. Of expectation. Of Potential. Of Dreams unborn. Of Waiting. Of Depth. A place to hold the despair into which we cry our tears of mourning and of sorrow for that which pulls at our hearts and leaves us with that gut wrenching emptiness as if there will be no dawning at the end of this long winter night. (Call it 2020 if you like)  And into this: Wilderness, exhausted, a voice cries out.  One small voice. When we are at our darkest and deepest moments of despair. When we too want to shout into the darkness – and by the way the darkness can take it all, whatever it is we need to shout.  When we name our fears, our despairs, our sorrows and expectations, our disappointments and unrealised dreams – when we let the darkness have them all; then we can begin to make it through. We need to go through the pain of being in the darkness to bring to birth the christ. 

Advent is not only a time for waiting, but also for preparation. Our task in preparation is creating the space to allow the Christ to come to birth. Among you stands one whom you do not yet know says John the Baptist to those who follow him out into the darkness, into the wilderness, searching for something that will bring healing in a time of desperate pain. This is where it begins. The slow bringing to birth begins in the darkness, in brokenness.  John the Baptist points the way to Christ, just as little Saint Nick the boy bishop of Myra did in the 4th century.  The darkness is where it begins with the small moments that bring in the light.  A moment spent on a doorstep offering a card, a moment on a video singing a song alone that becomes a choir of joy for others. Small moments of beauty and the time taken to stand and watch what unfolds yes, even in the darkness, especially in the darkness. Small moments of time offered, given for others, moments of love and even gifts given in the spirit of St. Nicolas.  As we prepare to remember a moment in time, the birth of the baby, the real moment, the birth of the Christ was the moment Mary said her yes and opened her heart to the possibility of what seemed impossible.  The idea of God away in the heavens and unreachable would instead come close. Perhaps that’s why John the Baptist points to the crowd and says one among you. There is one among you whom you do not know who embodies the christ and for us too, there can be one among us.  It can be each of us, unknown to ourselves this advent, each one of us, if our hearts are open to the possibility of small moments of transformation. Then comes born to us the Christ-mas in the reconciliation of all things.