The Miles I Walk

I had a discussion today with someone who I happen to love very much.  It wasn’t an easy discussion.  It was actually full of pain for both of us.   One comment made was that I, nor anyone else, has walked a mile in another’s shoes.

No I haven’t.  And I can’t.  I can not do that.   Nor, can anyone else walk that proverbial mile, in my shoes.

If I walked a mile in your shoes they would no longer be your shoes.  They would be mine.  I may be traversing a path you had set upon but my feet will not travel it the same.  I will step differently.  I will tread heavier, or lighter, or skip when you plod, or slow down where you may sprint.   Nor will my heart, my thoughts, and my reactions be identical to yours.   And even if I walk with you, no matter how closely I walk with you I can not walk a mile and experience your mile.

There are people in my life who I love very much.  And though I love them deeply and feel very close to them I don’t know their experiences like they know their experiences.  And they don’t know mine.  I hurt for what I perceive to be their pain.  And I celebrate what I perceive to be their joys.   But I bet I am not always right.  Because I know moments of my own celebrations I have stood alone because others didn’t understand.  And my deepest sobs were heard by no one but God Himself, because my pain was not felt by any one else.

I couldn’t ask another to walk in my shoes.  I couldn’t.  I think there are things that have happened in my life that I would never want another person to experience.  I have lived through them, and know that I can, I would not want anyone else to take that chance.  It was mine to face.   And face it, I did.

I wouldn’t ask another to walk in my shoes.  I wouldn’t!  I believe there are joys in my life that I would not want to give away to another.  They were mine to celebrate.  And celebrate with joy and gratitude I have.

My sorrows and my joys were experienced by me in the way that I was intended to celebrate and suffer them.  And even in the suffering, I learned there is joy.  There is joy in surviving, conquering and smashing the pains.  There is.  That is part of my path.  That I have discovered.  What if someone else, in their willingness to take my miles for me, missed the steps or stepped wrongly when I walked it myself and I found my strength.  My courage.  And my abilities.  What if in their generosity they walked my mile and tried to skip over and through the part that I dragged myself through to find my peace when I got to the end.  When, at that mile’s end,  I stood dirty, torn and battered.  But in my heart I carried the hope that I found in that very hard mile.

I do, sometimes, wish I could take my brother’s shoes and put them upon my feet.  My sister’s shoes.  My parent’s shoes.  My children’s shoes.  My Husband’s shoes. My friend’s shoes.   I wish I could walk in their shoes and experience for them the things I wish they did not have to experience.  But I know, deep down, I would not be able to do it.   Though I struggle with this, because it makes me feel like I have failed, failed you in your time of need.  It is sometimes more painful than I can express.   I suspect that any one of us has had this feeling, a helpless feeling of not knowing what to do so we resort to wishes.  I wish I could take the pain for you!  I wish I could get you through this!  I wish I could be the one because I could do this for you!  I wish…I wish it was different.

But I’m not meant to wear your shoes.  Or walk your mile.

The hardest miles of my life may very well be the miles I can’t walk for you.  The miles I walk that don’t include you.  The miles that pass beneath my life that you have walked out of.    If you would let me, I can walk by you.  I can walk with you.  I can walk to you.

In all truth I have not failed by not being able to walk in your shoes.

I fail, if I can not walk in mine.

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36 thoughts on “The Miles I Walk

  1. Profound and powerful and resonated with me C.

  2. So true and so very deep! Also very powerful!

  3. That is a brilliant post, Colleen. It made me think of my own children, who have had struggles so very different than my own. I wanted to step in and solve their issues. Of course, I never could. It is their path, their shoes. Thanks for the reminder. 💘

    • You’re welcome VBTR. With kids it’s so difficult, does that struggle to want to walk that mile for them ever stop? I don’t think so. I mean, I know we can’t and shouldn’t. But that parent’s natural instinct to protect, I don’t think it ever ends. Thankfully.

  4. Paul says:

    Whew, you do get onto some profound thoughts Colleen. I’ve pondered this question, along with a whack of others that fall under the same grouping, for years. It actually has to do with the way this universe is so fearfully constructed – and how we have been integrated into this universe. It is one of the the themes that leads directly to a supreme being and intelligent design. Here is the short of it – we feel and control only a very very small part of the universe, both emotionally and physically. And with this small part we can control or “understand” the whole. We use this frequently in our human constructions like cars. You have a set of controls and instruments that represent maybe .01% of all the systems and interactions. But that .01% is the part that actually allows the car to do what we wish it to do – transport us and our belongings comfortably, safely and efficiently over distances. So you apply a few ounces of pressure to your brake pedal and the systems convert that to thousands of pounds of braking pressure at the wheels. You don’t need to know how fast the lubricant is flowing over the bearings or when the internal thermostats are opening and closing or when the engine fan is on or off or how the paint is resisting rust, etc, etc.

    And so it is with helping others. You don’t need to know all the details – the road they walk – the information you need is carried by their emotional responses – which are a compilation and integration of their interpretation of the road they walked ( or as they say in communication lingo – the meta-data). You “job” is to help them with those responses – be it a reinterpretation of feelings or sometimes drilling down to what caused the feelings in order to affect change. But you always drop into their details from above, not down the road. A wonderful example is contained in a post over at “A Broken Blue Sky” https://abrokenbluesky.wordpress.com/2016/07/27/%E2%80%8Bwho-knew/ which was a response to a very emotional post over at Behind the White Coat – a superb blog about the life of a doctor.

    We have another unique ability which pairs perfectly with this emotional understanding. That is that we can see and understand how an integrated system works intuitively and when it is not working we can determine what needs to be done to return it to working order. This is exactly how extremely complex interactive systems are maintained – like fixing helicopters. The mechanic does not tear down all the systems and then begin working through them looking for the broken part – he/she looks at the whole and determines what systems could be affecting the whole the way it is acting and then dive down into those systems to check for faults – exactly the same process as is used emotionally to help others.

    So,to recap,we are built and exist in a world that is complex beyond our comprehension. We are not required to know or even understand that complexity as we control and fix things from a “control panel” that gives us the ability to make changes without a detailed knowledge. Changes to help others, changes to direct our car, changes to build bridges both physically and between individuals and cultures.

    • Paul says:

      If my comments are too long plse advise and I’ll keep it short.

    • I agree fully that we are complex. More complex than anything ‘we’ have or could build. This post was actually prompted by a comment someone made to me in anger or frustration. That there was no way I could understand the complexities of their life because I had not walked that ‘mile’ in their shoes. I was summarily dismissed of my thoughts and feelings because it was assumed I could not empathize or sympathize or in any way understand. And though I agreed I could not walk that mile, I was , in turn, frustrated with the dismissal I had received. And this post was a result.

      • Paul says:

        If that were true it would not be possible for any human to ever be understood by any other human. So, you are right and they are wrong – it is indeed possible for us to empathize and hence “feel” what the other is feeling without having walked a mile in their shoes.

        All we need to know is what is and what works. We do not have to know how what”is” occurred. In fact we do not understand the vast majority that we deal with hourly. Gravity basically defines our physical presence on the planet and we have no clue what it is. We know it causes the Earth to attract our physical form and keep us on the planet – along with the associated forces like friction, potential energy in inertia, etc.

        We can identify depression, fear, happiness,etc, on others without a clue what is causing them – and yet even without that clue, we can still help the other person or share in their enjoyment.

  5. Great point Colleen. There is only so much sympathy we can have.

  6. Wow! And even in the suffering, I learned there is joy. … I’ve said it before, but in the years I have been following you I see such amazing progress in your writing. You never fail to touch my heart.

  7. ksbeth says:

    great self reflection

  8. Val Boyko says:

    There is a space that ought to be acknowledged and respected here. The one between the thought and the actual experience of the other. Of course we cannot reenact their experience as our own. It is their’s alone.
    Yet … There is so much humanity in our ability to imagine if we were enduring a similar circumstance and to feel “as if”. To feel as if and to offer understanding is a precious gift for us to nurture within ourselves.
    Many folks are incapable, and I believe become less human because of it.
    xo

  9. reocochran says:

    This has been a subject I have thought about a lot. I do empathize, you do this, too. Colleen, we also sympathize with others, worrying that we want to help others and yet, sometimes we cannot. They may unburden some of their baggage and we may listen and help them feel better.
    But no, I agree, I would not wish to change my own course, my path is mine.
    Your path is yours, which I do remember you have had some very tough spots or rough patches where you probably didn’t really feel like going on, at times, but you are a strong and wonderful woman, who grew from each of those times. ❤

  10. Blue Sky says:

    This was beautiful… thank you!!!

  11. April says:

    I understand this, and I think I have been expecting those I love to have walked in my shoes. All they can do is walk with me…..and maybe hold my hand.

  12. I am so grateful that I happened upon this post while browsing around. It was indeed something that I needed to read and have been contemplating today. Thank you!

  13. […] assumed, “Yes, of course.” But, I have a new perspective on this after reading a blog post “The Miles I Walk” by The Chatter Blog. The following excerpt particularly stuck out to […]

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