Manuel has been a contractor all his life, as was his father, his grandfather, “all the way back to when we were making adobe huts in the desert east of Rosarito.” He is currently a licensed contractor in San Diego, and we’ve known each other for thirty years. I called him to ask if he’s still practicing something that has been handed down to him throughout the ages.
He said he had, and he was happy that I share this practice with you.
He told me of a tradition that has given him great peace through the years. I’ve heard many of stories similar to this but never from person I’ve known, and one that has had so much history and magic within this vehicle of thoughtfulness and compassion.
Manuel said that when he has an issue that he cannot seem to answer or come to terms with, he uses “ponerse en el lugar del otro,” which means, “put yourself in another person’s shoes.”
“These shoes have been handed down from generations. We have had the shoes of our ancestors from five generations back, and my great grandfather had his grandfather’s shoes, but I’m told that it started generations before him.”
“And these aren’t house slippers. These are sandals and work shoes that they’ve worn throughout the years. Shoes that they lived in. One’s that held their steps through the work of the day.”
“In my family, we hold on to these shoes. Both men and women. And when we reach an age where we begin to take account and responsibility for ourselves-working or going to school, raising a family, that kind of thing-we are allowed to use our grandparents shoes.”
“If we have conflict in our lives, and we’re not sure what to do, we ask the matriarch or patriarch of the family if we can use the shoes of our great grandparents to hold and help ground ourselves into making the right decisions.”
“The shoes are small. We place them on the top of our feet or sometimes we just stick a couple of toes in the front. Then we just sit. We close our eyes and feel the presence of their lives. We don’t walk in them. Some of these shoes are over one hundred years old. They held and supported the people of our past, the lives of those that came before us that pushed through challenges that would could never imagine. They strain and toil they endured, the perseverance through pain and struggle, live in each inch of leather and rope they strapped to their feet.”
“We all have challenges. Marriage, money, health, you name it. But when it gets tough, we walk in the shoes of our forefathers and mothers, those that have moved through their time with more problems and conflicts that we could ever imagine. We summon the strength from their lives, and ask them what they would do.”
“And when I’m quiet, I always speak to them with the same four words: “Show me the way."
“Then we listen. We sit quietly, meditating on their presence and listening for their counsel. Often we’ll get a feeling or a nudge, something within us being stirred. For me, it’s when I feel a sense of calm come over me. Then I know the next step to take.”
“So many people are around us, just waiting to offer us a little help. Just step into their shoes. It happens. They do appear, their spirit is within us, waiting to guide us to our next steps.”