Evidently, the phrase we all know, Walk a Mile in My Shoes, probably was taken from a poem of 1895 by Mary T. Lathrap. Ms. Lathrap had written: “Walk a mile in his moccasins”, the poem further asking the reader to imagine things from another’s point of view.
To take the phrase to a literal interpretation, I have noticed on many occasions, in walking with someone who is either temporarily or permanently challenged to walk at a moderate speed or to walk a moderate distance, that I find myself appreciating my own good fortune to be strong and able to walk pretty far, at a decent pace. And….I’ve tried to keep up with a faster walker, such as Jade Mortimer, only able to bust along with her for maybe half a mile before I have to drop back. I get a definite look into what it is to walk many miles in Jade’s shoes.
Bonnie had shoulder surgery a couple of weeks ago. She needs to keep that sling of hers stable and that shoulder carefully protected for about six weeks. Tripping over a curb, falling and jarring those healing tendons, would be disastrous at this stage of healing. She walks just fine. Strong as ever. But I walk next to her, hyper-aware of every nook and cranny in the sidewalks, taking hyper precautions at every street crossing. For just these few weeks, I am walking in Bonnie’s shoes, more aware of potential urban trips and falls than ever before.
When I walk with our EW buddy, Gabriella Greco, her gait impaired by Cerebral Palsy, I am focused on how much effort Gabby summons, to move down the road under a 20-min/mile pace. For Gabby, there’s not an issue of fitness, nor of grit. She’s got both of those going, in spades. But the tendons of her legs are pulling so darn tight that she cannot loosen and lengthen her stride. When we walk together, the smiles and the conversation always flowing freely, I am suddenly caught up in appreciation of how easy walking is for me, something I take for granted all the time.
Our EverWalk Events Producer Tom Maglio recently escorted a blind woman when he was volunteering at a vaccination site. Tom says it was eye-opening to him to realize how able she was in negotiating tricky walkways and steps. That sparked a memory for me of a television piece I did years ago at an upstate New York training center for guide dogs for the blind. They blindfolded me and had one of their impressive trained dogs take me for a walk around the little town. He tugged me left or right going down the sidewalk, realizing my knee might crack into a pole without that little shift. He paused at the traffic lights and gently led me across the cross-walks and up onto the next curb. I had a chance to meet the blind woman who would be going home with that particular Labrador as her guide companion, and I had just a slight glimpse into what it would be to Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.
At the end of each 20-mile day on our Epic events, the super-fast walkers (who sometimes finish before others even reach the 10-mile lunch stop!) often turn around when they get to the Achieve Line and track back to walk in with others and encourage them to finish strong. I’ve always admired them for that kind spirit. And I sense the appreciation they seem to have for those who are simply not as gifted with the ability to walk at a blistering pace all day long. They understand, and they bring a unification to the event, to walk a mile, without judgement, in the average participant’s shoes.
Yes, the phrase is usually intended as a metaphor for understanding another’s situation, for finding compassion and empathy for a challenge someone else grapples with and is forced to endure. But in the EverWalk universe, it is often an empathetic exercise to quite literally Walk a Mile with someone who could use our company. Someone who would be grateful for our understanding of what they are experiencing.