Sole to Soul

Dec 30, 2010

A Cambodian in Canada shares a poignant and personal tale about his six-dollar pair of sneakers.

283 "I was just happy to have shoes... but I still knew it was 'damn hideous'".


When I was younger my mom and I would spend hours at the local discount department store – browsing and trying new and amazing products. We were new immigrants to Canada at the time – with very little money to spend, so needless to say, we spent more time trying than buying.

One day, she had bought me a pair of shoes – blue with purple stripes and orange text that read “TRAXX” on them. They were ugly, I recalled. But having just arrived in Canada, I had very little say as to what was nice and what wasn't. I was just happy to have shoes. But even though I was only five at the time and having no grasp of Canadian culture, I still had the innate human instinct to know that it was “damn hideous.” Other kids made fun of me at school whenever I wore them. They’d call me names, push me off the jungle gym, pinched and poked, and for some strange reason, this kid named Chuck took my shoes one day and threw them in the garbage bin. I went home without my shoes that night – only to be yelled at by mom. It wasn't until the next morning that the custodian found it and returned them to my class.

It got to a point when my shoes became my demise. They were two sizes bigger than my feet. When the teacher turned off the lights, the orange text glowed in the dark. When I ran, I’d sometimes trip, plunging my face first to the ground. My shoes flew off my feet whenever that happened. Some nights, I'd come home crying, sniffling like a kid without Kleenex, snot running down my nose. I'd walk through the house looking for a place to hide my shoes – and had I known how to use a lighter at the time, I probably would’ve burnt them. My mom would comfort and console me, promising a new pair as soon as I’d grow out of the ones I had.

On some days, I’d sit on the bench at recess looking out at all the other kids, wishing I'd be in their shoes. Nike’s and Reeboks would flood my nocturnal dreams. But when I asked my mom for those brands, she’d turn to me, look deep into my eyes and hold me tight and say, “It doesn't matter what kind of shoes you wear, son, as long as it gets you there.”

It is not the sole that carries me forward – but the SOUL from within that compels me to aim higher, push harder, and go further.

Sometimes, when I'm in the midst of travel, tired and drained of emotion – held together only by hope – I’d think back to those days when I was “that boy with the ugly shoes.” In retrospect, I’d come to realize that no matter the distance, it is not the sole that carries me forward – but the SOUL from within that compels me to aim higher, push harder, and go further. And sometimes, when the world just seems unbearable, when all is restless and all is devoid of the fabric that sustains humanity, I just have to look deeper, think clearer to find the stitches to mend and weave back together the very essence of all that is beautiful in our world.

Lately, I've been asked to speak to local youth groups, schools and organizations. And every time I’m up there, I can’t help but to look at all the little shoes before me. It comforts me, because when all is said and done, I'm just a simple man with simple ideas, common goals and common needs. It is that common thread that binds us all. And no matter the color, no matter the shape, size, creator or creed, it is the goal at hand – the destination at target that should only matter. Sometimes as humans, we seldom look beyond the materialistic things that limit us from achieving our goal. We let them define us, control and mentally shape the outcome of our dreams. So when we are awake, it is these materialistic notions that dictate why we fail or why we succeed.

It took me two years to grow out of those shoes and by 2nd grade I got used to them. After a while I naturally grew into them. I ran faster, kicked harder, and eventually, the glow in the dark orange text stopped glowing and lost its luster. I simply adapted to what I had.

“It doesn't matter what kind of shoes you wear, son, as long as it gets you there.” Twenty five years later, on the cusp of turning thirty and having traveled to over 40 countries, through wars, devastation, heartache and pain, trials and tribulations, I've never forgotten those words. And to this day, I'm thankful she only paid $5.99 for those shoes.


This post was originally published on Ronz World in December 2010.