Once again I am saying goodbye.
I am at the airline gate, watching the back of my son’s head as he reaches the last possible point to turn around and catch my eye. But then he waves goodbye, without even glancing back. He always does that, it makes me crazy.
He knows I am still here, waiting for that final acknowledgement, that last farewell.
I wait because it is what I do. It is what my life has become. A series of waves and goodbyes and crying quietly on train rides back home.
Lewis has been with us for a week, enjoying hiking in Switzerland and a week in Paris. And now he’s headed to Athens to see his friend Dave and from there, who knows? Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia? Miles and miles on his feet.
It’s mind-blowing to think I used to fit his entire newborn foot in my mouth and bite it, and now they are big men’s feet. And I have no idea where those feet are taking him.
On the train ride back to Zug, I look down at the floor and my eyes rest on a tiny, new pair of shoes – hiking boots actually. And they are attached to a cute blond-headed boy, about five years old, seated next to his dad. I imagine how excited he must have been going to the shoe store, being measured and fitted for his big hiking adventure.
I think back to all those shopping excursions I made with Lewis, the trendy new school shoes, summer sandals, the endless futbol boots.The rows and rows of choices and the meticulous way he chose what he wanted. It took forever, they had to feel just right.
When did I stop helping him buy his shoes? I don’t remember.
He inherited his pudgy feet from me, always a bit harder to fit with a wider size. And to this day he always gravitates to the shoe department, even in stores that don’t have one, like electronics stores. We had some fun browsing in Paris. He checked out the Vans and the latest Nikes that haven’t even hit the U.S. stores yet.
There are a few family stories attached to his feet. I remember the horrible accident at Wrightsville Beach, when he walked barefoot onto the oyster beds and sliced open his foot on the razor-sharp shells. The tender skin slit clean open and it took a few hours of Dad’s compression bandage to stop the bleeding.
What’s more miserable than a five-year old who can’t run on the beach but can’t stop trying to anyway?
Years later, I remember the call from the college infirmary informing me that he had a badly infected ingrown toenail. I demanded a cell phone picture immediately, and groaned when I saw how painful it looked.
But with typical pluck, Lewis continued to play on the team for weeks while the thing cleared up.
Our feet are our roots, they are the foundation for all movement. In yoga, I learned that the foot can be visualized as having distinct quadrants. And that I can play with my balance by drawing my attention to each one. And by doing so, the energy radiates up my legs differently.
Different potential pathways up my spine to the very top of my head. What an awesome thing to internalize, that all movement can be initiated through the feet. And the understanding that our poses can be so much stronger and vibrant with the grounding energy articulated through our foot base.
And our sense of gravity and confidence begins in our feet. When we trust our footing, our mind quiets and we can proceed. We’re integrated.
I wish I could have used that New-Agey wisdom on our hike up Mt. Pilatus last weekend. The climb was rigorous, but more than that, it was a sheer drop off if I misstepped. But the main problem wasn’t my foot skills, it was my brain. I could not contain my fear of falling to my death.
I mean, what a waste of antidepressants.
And there was Lewis, scurrying up the rocks ahead of me, waiting patiently as I tenuously navigated where to place my foot with each step. Clearly he wasn’t thinking about falling or dying or even missing the view. I was scared to death to even try to catch a glimpse of that, if I had it would have been all over.
There was a point up on the mountain when I knew I couldn’t go on. I was so scared. But it killed me not to finish and to disappoint him. Yet he gently helped me make the decision to turn around. And then he went back down the mountain with me, because I was terrified to go by myself (also because I was crying and begging.)
But later he said to me: You know, Mom, you had to try to see if you could do it, because if you didn’t, you’d never know. Well, check that off, now I know. Now I know that I wasn’t tough enough, brave enough, anything enough to push through.
I know that my sister would have been able to do it. I know that I’m a big wuss. It is not a happy realization.
Anyway, my son has grown into those near twelve-foot sized shoes, I can see that. And he’s balancing just fine on them. Me, I’m just getting older, feeling more afraid, wanting to stay safe. But shouldn’t it be the opposite? Shouldn’t we become less afraid as we get closer to death, as a sort of natural preparation? And shouldn’t young people have more fear in order to stay alive? I don’t know.
Funny thing, later, at the bottom of the trail, Lewis tried to soften the blow by explaining that the reason he didn’t feel fear was because that part of my brain hasn’t fully developed yet. Hmm, okay. I’ll go with that.
And now today, I find myself looking at the bottom of my feet, at the callouses and the strong arches. And they are a testament to all the miles I have put on them. And they haven’t let me down yet. Last year I logged nearly 1700 miles. That’s something, right? So what if the mountain is not my natural terrain. I am proud of my brand of endurance. I am grateful for my strong feet
And so the ritual continues. The hug, the trying not to cry and hang on too long. The last second wave as he is swallowed up by the others at the gate. And it’s farewell to the version of the little boy from the past with the pudgy feet. The boy who ran so hard trying to keep up with his sister. Now he’s a 6 foot three-inch man hardly anyone can follow.
And so I steel myself for the uncertainty of not knowing who I will be reunited with on the return trip. A new person, separate from me, way beyond me in his travel experience. He will be a different man, someone I don’t hardly know.
Except by the fact that he is brave and sweet, loves gummy worms, and has a wide toothy smile and a big heart.
And he has strong, capable feet.
Feet that wear smelly, well-traveled, extra wide, size eleven-and-a-half men’s shoes.