"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I was getting ready, fresh out of the shower, legs just shaved, thinking about doing what I could to make the massage I was scheduled for that day a more pleasant experience for Julie. It's one of life's greatest opportunities for humility that in order to take care of my body, I have to make it available in all its lumpy, knobby imperfection to the caring healing hands of others. Since Julie often starts her therapeutic massage at my feet, I considered what she sees.

My feet have never been pretty. Not even when I was a child and my parts were fresh and new and smooth. Wide and short, hard to find shoes to fit, most of the year so calloused (and dirty) they often looked moccasin clad even when bare. Bare was always my chosen state for those feet, because until adolescence and an awareness of peer-defined beauty, I enjoyed them and all they allowed.

Almost all of my best childhood memories involve those bare feet and summertime. The tickle of soft wild grass. The soothing wash of the creek current. Even the squish and warmth of cow pies. I knew a friendly world through my feet, one that offered endless variations of sensation and pleasure.

I learned early that without my feet, life was much more limited. Stepping on a nail. A bee sting between toes. The weight of a cow. All slowed me down, and made me long for lost freedoms. But none were enough to convince me shoes were a good option.

During the vanity years, aware I didn't meet the standard for foot beauty (long and thin and white and smooth) I covered mine with shoes that were fashionable. I ignored their cries for mercy, only allowing freedom in the privacy of home or at the beach where I saw other feet perhaps uglier than mine.

Then there were the years when I ignored them altogether, acknowledging neither pleasure nor pain, just expecting them to carry me where I wanted to go as they always had. Even then, however, bare was my preference, and bare feet on summer grass always had the power to make me feel connected to life in ways that nothing else could.

The feet that Julie so gently manipulates have not grown magically beautiful over the years. They spread like river deltas, creating a whole new definition for wide. Bunions moved into the big toe joints. Heels are a cracked desert landscape. Toe nails are odd sizes and shapes, and even the occasional attempt at decoration with color does little to disguise their quirkiness.

And yet I present them to her in all their gnarled glory. And something she does wakes them to a former sensitivity I didn't even know I'd lost. They loosen under her touch, and release, and respond to her understanding and non-judging attention. So when I ask them to hold me again at the end of my time with Julie, I feel the ground under my feet in ways I haven't since childhood. The contact feels alive, humming with energy that reaches up through my soles to the center of me.

Finally, I am at that place where I wouldn't trade my beloved and hard-working feet for even the most beautiful. After a lifetime of wishing for so many things to be different, including much about the body I was given, I'm content and grateful - glad - for the parts that connect me with home.


DJan said...

Oh, how lovely! Your feet look at lot like mine. My bunions are from all those years of wearing high heels that scrunched my feet in ways they never were intended to go!

Love the story, and yes, your feet are definitely "grounded." Totally cool post, thanks!

kario said...

Yay! I, too, prefer bare feet and they show it. In the summertime when I can get away with it, they are usually partially stained green from the grass, black from hot asphalt (when I walk out to the mailbox), and always dry and cracked. My girls call them "elephant feet" and I just don't care. There are few things that measure up to the sensation of cool grass between your toes or the slush of wet sand at the water's edge. Celebrate! I'm so glad you treat your feet to a massage!


I loved every word of this post, and esp that you are treating those tired puppies to a massage. I could sure use one too. My feet are so tired from all the walking lately, up and down hospital corridors and then here at home doing chores.
My feet are propped up right now resting.
But I'm going to ask/beg hubby to massage them. He does a great job too.
Thanks for the idea.
Why do we think what we have is so worse than everyone else's???
We women are nuts. That's all I have to say on it!

Charlene: the Polarblogger said...

This is a great story about having a positive outlook on things that may seem unpleasant for us. Sometimes, we worry about how we or parts of our body look like, but then, we don't see that these things are the ones that can benefit us most.
Yes, we should be grateful and happy that we have them to our benefit. After all, the most important thing is the inner person, not outward appearance.
Thanks for sharing such optimistic attitude.

Barb said...

Deb, Your essay hits home with me - being grateful for what I am left with in my "advancing" years - sometimes even the most mundane and imperfect seems an answer to prayers.

Stacy Crawford said...

Deb, thanks for always touching my heart and getting me into deeper waters. I love the thoughts that get me thinking on levels I often ignore because of time. You are a gem.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Hey, I betcha my bunion's bigger than yours!

Retired English Teacher said...

Keep taking care of those feet. My mother who is nearly 95 still have beautiful feet. Now, she has a woman who comes to her home who does reflexology on her feet twice a month. Every other week, the reflexology is followed by a pedicure. I am amazed at how this has improved my mother's health, which was good already.

Retired English Teacher said...

Opps, I meant to say that she has beautiful feet. I should edit before I publish!

Donna said...

Feet are one of the most important parts of our body...they hold us up and if they hurt...look out! I, too, have foot massages pretty regularly, until of late (too much stuff going on!). I love every blessed minute of it! I think it's very therapeutic. Thank goodness you have Julie!!

P.S. I think yours are charming! They made me smile when i saw them.

yaya said...

My surgical mind said...oh boy, I know how to fix those bunions! Hopefully they are not too painful and I'm glad you get massages. I love them, but haven't gone in a long time. Figures, my Chiropractor husband doesn't have one in his office! Your post was beautiful even if you think your feet are not. We take this wonderful body/temple that God gave us so much for granted, but you have put it in perfect perspective.

Wanda said...

Isn't it amazing how societies try to control women through their feet? Foot binding...high heels...platform shoes...pointy, skinny, narrow (and ugly, I might add) things that show toe cleavage....

I decided a long time ago that I was done wearing shoes that hurt my feet and I have loved my feet (with the curled little toes) even when others laughed at me (derisively) for it.

Screw them. They are the base of the mountain I have become.


Tabitha Bird said...

I always enjoy reading you. It's nice to know such acceptance is possible. I am heading towards that... but not there yet.

Desiree said...

This is such a beautiful piece, Deb! It has such honesty and depth and highlights so much about all of ourselves. You have an uncanny mind. Everything you write is pure poetry and I really do find myself gasping at every word as no one could possibly put things better than you do! What a great privilege to be allowed this insight into your mind. Thank you!

And, BTW, if those are your feet...there's nothing wrong with them! You've given yourself a lifetime of hang-ups for nothing! So pleased you've finally come to truly love them :)

#1Nana said...

I have yet to get comfortable with massage. For me it's not the body image thing but rather what my friends call my "FOF" or Fear of Farting. I just can't relax because, you know, what if I fart? So, i deny myself the pleasure because of a fear of what might happen even though I know that it is a common occurance...according to my equally gassy friends. Wow, now this comment has turned into true confessions!

Lavi said...

Your post surprised me. A bit strange as breakfast reading, but it was also very interesting.

Your story about your feet and the way you view them reminded me of when dad and I used to walk barefoot. I guess it comes with living in the countryside for a while. Simpler times when being barefoot felt like a closer connection to earth. Thank you for reminding me of those old times.

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

When I started reading, I wasn't sure what to expect...but you write so beautifully and in such a delightful way that I definitely loved every part of your post. You made us realize how much we can sense through our feet. How many times we neglect our feet, or just take them for granted. When I see my nursing home resident who are no longer able to walk--which are the majority-- I appreciate more my feet and the blessing of being able to walk, run, jump, kick, etc.

Deb, that was another awesome post!


Wen Baragrey said...

Aww, I think you made my day, Deb. I'm reluctantly having to look at my sneakers again after a summer spent entirely barefoot and feeling quite sulky about it. The other day, my son said, "Wow, you have total hobbit feet!" because they are well used to wearing no footwear and look like the well used moccasins you described :)

I feel a lot better about my moccasins now and I'll miss them all winter!

deborahjbarker said...

Hi Deb, how I love your posts. Feet! I used to wear high heels all the time. I mean, ALL the time. Then the doctor said the pain I was experiencing was due to wear and tear on the long bone of the foot. I was in my thirties then and ever since, I have worn heels sparingly. The pain went and my feet still happily take me where I want to go.They are not quite as pretty as they once were and I probably don't pay them the attention they deserve but a foot massage, now that is pure bliss.

I love the way you took us through your childhood from a photogrpah of your bare feet, waiting for waiting for a little help.:-)

Linda Myers said...

Ten years ago I walked in the Breast Cancer 3-Day. I learned to take care of my feet. Got the right shoes, the custom orthotics. These days I wear only Brooks and Dansko shoes, regardless of style. My feet are my faithful servants and they deserve the best.

Bernie said...

A great post and great comments! I simply loved #1 Nana's comment! I can so relate to that!

I can really only wear athletic shoes now and that poses a problem the few times I need to be formally dressed. Like at Julie's son's wedding. I wore some sandals that about killed me walking down the aisle practically lying on Ian's arm and as soon as we got in to the reception area, I sat, and my son brought my athletic shoes to me and I wore them the rest of the night. And I had to go out on the dance floor with them on with my formal for married the longest.

Terri Tiffany said...

I love the way you talk about your feet. It makes me rethink mine and all the places they have taken me. I have taken them for granted for sure!

Kathryn Grace said...

Gorgeous prose. Perfect topic. Feet are big here in SF. Big as in, even if a woman is wearing a down jacket more suitable to Alaska, her feet are scantily clad and her toenails painted. Unless of course, it's a hot day. Then she's likely to be wearing a sleeveless top and knee-high sheep-skin boots. I've never quite figured the fashion rules.

Our feet, like weight, represent one of those aspects of women's bodies we are taught to feel ashamed of early on. I blame the teen rags. I still remember the article in Seventeen when I was sixteen. It went something like this, "Sure your hair is perfectly coiffed, you're wearing the latest ruffled shirt over your kicky new dirndl skirt, but before you go out that door, check your feet! Are the heels calloused? The cuticles ragged? The toenails uneven?"

Of course, they offered about a hundred dollars worth of products, even then, that would make my feet the envy of every other girl on the beach. Heck, I went without lunch several days a week just to save the 99 cents for the essential jumbo can of Aquanet I needed to keep my coiffure looking like a giant bubble.