By Lyn May
When I was about nine, I was chasing my best friend Linda down the uneven brick sidewalk between my grandfather's house and her house. I think we were both yelling about something, but my happy yelps turned to a long and loud enough shriek that it brought my one-legged grandfather out onto our small side porch.
I saw it just before my bare right foot came solidly down on a huge, green tomato worm, squishing it between my toes as it exploded. I can't remember whether Linda just kept running home or came back, but I do remember my grandfather, probably thinking something really bad had happened to me, pounding down the steps, doing the funny hop-skip he'd do when he was trying to make that artificial leg go faster.
I think even he was impressed with the slime and insect parts stuck between my toes. I was hysterical, and thus began my defensive love affair with shoes. Except when it would have been seriously inappropriate, I wore shoes for the next seven decades, indoors and out.
Then, as the vagaries of age started to overtake me, my feet began trying to get my attention. They would swell more easily, and ache more noticeably at the end of ordinary days, even in well-designed, age-appropriate shoes. I gave up high heels and began having pedicures because it was harder to reach that far to adequately cut my toenails and, most disquieting, I'd begun losing some feeling in my feet. They felt less like my feet than feet I was observing from a distance.
I can't remember when or why I began to go barefoot in my house but I've always had good intuition and a strong inner voice, and I occasionally change something in my life based on nothing more than these two parts of my personality. Going barefoot in the house, to and from my car when I forget something, and on my back deck, just came to me as something I should be doing as I aged. And, I believed it could help me keep my balance if I could feel more in touch with surfaces. I came to feel that shoes had become a barrier between me and the ground, that I wasn't feeling enough through my feet.
At first it felt a little weird and I did think about that tomato worm more than once. But gradually I got used to it, then began to like it and now can't imagine wearing shoes anymore often than I have to wear them. And, yes, I have had another insect encounter. A huge bug actually ran over my foot a few weeks ago. I was undone and swore with gusto that would have shocked my grandson with delight, but I didn't start wearing shoes again.
I've come to appreciate something in the Bible that has always interested me: I know the symbolism of Jesus washing his disciples' feet before the Last Supper was about humility and service to others, but every evening as I wash my feet as the last thing I do before getting in bed, I think of Jesus and the other simple reason washing feet in ancient times was so important. Feet got dirty in sandals (I haven't worn anything except sandals since about May) and when they were bare then – and now. I am soothed as I clean my feet and that feeling of calm moves into bed with me. It's a nice way to end my day. And, of course, there is the irony of this heathen thinking of Jesus at the end of every day.
True or not, I do believe going barefoot as much as I can has improved my balance, and my sense of connection to my surroundings, and it's a great way to know when I need to damp mop a floor. Recently, an old friend my age expressed surprise and a little shock at my going barefoot at all, much less at nearly 77. I think he may have felt there was something unseemly about it. After a little research I sent him this article. I found it reassuring.