Monday, August 11, 2014

The Void

Our kids had grown up and moved out. Chuck, Booboo and I had settled into a comfortable routine…now that it was just the three of us. Rather than being “the family dog,” Booboo had become our companion. We spent a good amount of time just hanging out with him.

Booboo was getting older, 11 or 12 years old, and I realized that his time with us would wrap up in the not-too-distant future. I was concerned about how our family would handle his death. Actually, I was concerned about how our kids would handle his death…for us! I decided I’d better nip this in the bud. Do a bit of preventive communication. I made it clear that no matter how sad we were when Booboo died, do not, under any circumstances, get us another puppy to cheer us up.

Well in advance of Booboo’s death, Chuck and I were planning to be pet-free…once Booboo was gone. As much as we loved him and would miss him, we were ready for a phase of life when traveling, in particular, would be less complicated.

Are you planning to get another dog?” is a regular question we’ve gotten since Booboo’s death. For Chuck, the answer is a definite “no.” For me, the answer is “not at this time.” Then comes the question, “But what about the void?” It surprised me how many people used the same phrase…the void…and talked about it as if it were a power beyond our control. A black hole that relentlessly pulls at your heart strings, reminding you of what’s been lost, until you give in and refill it.

It didn’t take long for me to encounter the void. The empty space that used to be filled with Booboo’s energy, spirit, and personality…as well as his physical presence. The routines that were so much a part of my day, were now altered or non-existent. Routines like taking Booboo for a walk when I got up in the morning and when I got home from work in the evening…no need to do that anymore. Bringing a ball and his bed to the laundromat, so we could play fetch while we wait for the dryer to finish…no one to play fetch with now. Lying in bed and reaching to pet Booboo, who always cuddled up next to me…it’s just an empty space.

The void. The sudden emptiness that used to be so full of energy…and love. Even when death is long expected, the emptiness feels sudden. Like turning off a light switch that won’t go back on. Even if the bulb has slowly gotten dimmer, one’s eyes have adjusted. When it switches off for good, it’s quick and irreversible.

I can only imagine how difficult the void would be when a loved one’s health is good and death comes unexpectedly. Then you’re going from full light to complete darkness…in an instant. The book Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, who lost her parents, husband, and two young sons in the 2004 tsunami, tells the story of such loss, and the unbearable emptiness that follows. I read this book shortly after Booboo’s passing. While the intensity of her loss was much greater than ours, I found many similarities in her process of grieving and healing…and particularly her reference to the void.

I can see why people will choose to get a new dog fairly quickly after the death of their previous one. Even though it’s not the same animal as the one you loved and lost, it allows you to keep a similar routine and calm the power of the void. You again have someone to take for a walk, greet you when you come home, and cuddle with in the evenings.

Rather than filling the void, I wanted to understand it and learn to work through it. I didn’t miss having a dog. I missed Booboo. I missed my friend. The dog who converted many self-proclaimed non-dog people to at least liking this dog. The dog who would settle into my arms, and often fall asleep, while I did a variety of activities…such as shopping, conversation, and cooking. The dog who loved to hunt for Easter eggs and get his own presents from under the Christmas tree, leaving all other presents undisturbed. The dog who some people wanted to clone, because they had never met a dog like Booboo and wanted one just like him. (I always discouraged the cloning idea.)

Getting another dog would not be the same. The void would be filled superficially. I would soon have to come to terms with the fact that the new animal is a dog, but not the same dog. And like I said before, I didn’t miss having a dog. I missed Booboo.

The first few months were the hardest. I still expected him to be there. Every routine, every memory caused me to have to lose him over and over again. Coming home and looking for him…no, he’s gone. Waking up in the morning and reaching to pet him…no, he’s dead. Seeing a toy or snack at the store that he would like…no need, he’s no longer with us.

Once the reality of his absence sunk in and many of my routines had been changed, I no longer had to keep reminding myself that he was gone. At that point, my memories of him became a source of comfort, rather than a painful reminder of loss. And the void started to calm.

I am grateful that Booboo came into our lives, and I now delight in the memories of our time together. Everyone I’ve known, and especially those I’ve loved, are deeply a part of me…never to be separated completely. Working through this void has been quite a worthwhile lesson. Getting beyond what’s been lost, to the point of joy and gratitude for what was gained. The lessons learned from Booboo, with him, and because of him will help in all other areas of my life.

The void can be filled or can be worked through and calmed…or some combination of the two. My old routines have been replaced with new ones. Some intentionally altered, like playing solitaire at the laundromat instead of fetch, and others more naturally changed, like being able to stay downtown after work, rather than having to come home first. Life after the void is different, and yet in a new way it’s still good.

Will we get another dog some day? Hard to say for sure. When I’m an old lady, another dog might be a welcome addition. We’ll see. The void has calmed. My memories of Booboo now bring a smile of joy, more often than a tear of sadness. Change is a part of life. Loss is a part of life. But the love stays with you…through it all.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


I’ve been avoiding mainstream medicine, as much as possible, for years. I will only go to a doctor, or take a family member to one, when I want to confirm a diagnosis or fix an injury. Most prescriptions that are offered are either declined or left unfilled, unless the doctor can give a compelling reason why their benefits would outweigh their many downsides.

This attitude and approach is the result of repeated disappointment with the medical industry’s ability to prevent or heal disease…something they repeatedly claim they can do. I see doctors as a resource of information, with limited knowledge and a limited viewpoint. Since I read health and medical books for fun, I have a growing foundation of knowledge regarding various conditions and their treatment options. I consider my perspective and opinions to be just as valid to the situation as theirs; and often more so, since I know myself and my family members far better than the doctor ever could.

It rarely takes long in the course of a visit to realize that the doctor doesn’t agree with me on this point…at all. The doctor is the “expert” and I am expected to “comply” with the doctor’s “orders.” Clearly they don’t know me very well. I will be polite during the visit, ask questions, and get his/her opinion…then go home and do additional research about other options, before deciding how best to move forward. I had never met a doctor who showed me an equal level of respect and consideration, where I could actually voice my opinion during the visit…until Kevin.

The family member who needed care was our 14-year-old toy poodle, Booboo. He had a growing list of health issues, yet every vet I had taken him to either didn’t think my concern about his symptoms was anything to worry about, or wanted to run a bunch of expensive and invasive tests that wouldn’t accomplish anything towards improving his health or comfort level. It had been two years since Booboo’s last vet visit, and the only thing accomplished during that last visit was the stressing out of our poor old dog.

So here we were. I wasn’t happy with any vet we had seen so far, and yet I needed some insight into the specific problems Booboo was dealing with. An internet search of local vets led me to a new vet in town…Kevin Toman at Mission Animal Hospital. His website showed he embraced nutrition and homeopathy, in addition to mainstream medicine. I have found that any doctor willing to accept homeopathy as a valid form of medicine has loosened the straps of his medical training enough to allow himself to be open to alternatives. This was a good sign. I called his office and made an appointment.

Booboo’s health issues were quite advanced, especially his congestive heart failure. His cataracts, deafness, spinal arthritis, and dental decay all aggravated his declining condition. We accepted that we would not be able to heal most of these diseases, and instead focused on things that might make him more comfortable…until it was clearly time to let him go.

My interaction with Kevin, his wife Diane, and their office staff lasted a total of two months. It was an experience that far surpassed any interaction I have ever had with anyone in the medical community…before or since. When I made my last visit to his office to pick up Booboo’s ashes, Kevin was working alone at the front counter. After we took care of business, I looked him in the eye and asked if he had any idea how unique he was. He paused, and then joked that his wife would probably agree he was unique, but he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing.

There are several things that made it clear that Kevin sees his role differently than most medical professionals do. He is very open about everything he does. There are windows in his examination rooms and no roof. You can hear everything he’s telling the pet family in the next room, which gives you a feel for his approach to animal care before you even meet him. When he comes in, he drops the “Dr” when introducing himself. He’s just Kevin. This sets a collaborative tone to the visit, rather than an expert/patient hierarchy. He then sits on the floor and listens, really listens, as you tell him about your animal and any concerns you have.

During our visits, information flowed both directions – him getting a feel for Booboo and our relationship with him, and me getting helpful information and answers to questions. If I asked about something he wasn’t familiar with, such as an alternative treatment option, Kevin had no problem accepting the limits of his knowledge and expertise by responding with “I don’t know” …and then qualifying that answer with, “I don’t have any knowledge or experience with that form of treatment, so can’t advise on it.” It was incredibly refreshing, and rare, to find a doctor willing to admit he didn’t know something. Most doctors would give an opinion anyway. Kevin just offered a couple of cautions and left it to me to research more and make the final decision.

My opinion and his differed on a few points, to which he always responded, “We can disagree and still be friends.” That was my absolute favorite thing that he would say. And he meant it. I know that, because it was put to the test during Booboo’s final week with us.

Kevin had prescribed a few medications for Booboo to help stabilize his congestive heart failure and ease the pain of his spinal arthritis. These medications helped Booboo physically, and yet they muddled all traces of his personality. In addition, his appetite had declined significantly, which made it even harder to get him to take his meds on the prescribed schedule without having it turn into a battle of wills.

To give Booboo and me a break, I skipped a dosage on one of his meds. Within a couple of hours, I noticed a slight return of his personality. I then skipped the next one and he came back to us a bit more. It didn’t take long for me to decide to drop more of his meds. After a few days without the drugs, he did a bow-stretch…something he hadn’t done in weeks, and a glimmer of our old, loved friend came back for a bit. Getting that last glimpse of his former self, however brief, was well worth any speeding up of his decline that most likely took place.

At Booboo’s next appointment with Kevin, I told him that Booboo had been off his meds for a week and  explained my reasons for stopping them. This action had caused a worsening of fluid build up in Booboo’s heart, which was a serious backslide of his physical condition. Kevin sat on the floor and visibly struggled with the situation. He looked from his left hand to his right, with one representing his opinion and the other representing mine. He concluded that we were both trying to do what was best for Booboo, but each had different priorities. In the end, Kevin confirmed that Booboo’s condition would continue to decline – with meds or without. We came to a compromise on the medications and I agreed to give Booboo the one he felt was most important.

With any other doctor, I would have been scolded for not following his “orders”… or I would have withheld information about my actions, to avoid having to endure his judgment of my choice. Neither one is helpful to the healing process – whether it’s physical healing we’re striving for or emotional/spiritual healing. The respect Kevin showed towards the needs of our emotional relationship with Booboo, which toward the end overrode Booboo’s physical needs, was something I had never experienced before from anyone in the medical profession. True mutual respect.

Kevin’s final gift to our family, and especially to Booboo, was his willingness to come to our house to do the euthanasia. Booboo was able to spend his last day with us in the comfort of his home, surrounded by the love of his family, until his last breath.

The rest of the medical community needs to get off their high horse and take a lesson. Care of the body, mind, and spirit requires true mutual respect…and an acceptance that the doctor may not agree with the path that needs to be chosen. And that’s okay.

We can disagree and still be friends.”

Thanks, Kevin.

Friday, April 4, 2014

...Last Days

As Booboo approached his fifteenth birthday, his congestive heart failure took a serious turn for the worse. Combining that problem with his blindness, deafness, and advanced spinal arthritis, it became clear that his time with us was wrapping up. If we let his congestive heart failure run its course, his last moments on earth would be spent gasping for breath and dying in a panic. Not an acceptable scenario for someone so deeply loved.

I’d been struggling with this decision for weeks. My biggest fear was the possibility of euthanizing him too soon…before he was ready…before we were ready. I talked to Chuck and our three grown children about their feelings and concerns. We all came to the same conclusion. When the time was right, we would know. If we had any doubts, then it wasn’t time yet.

What we want, and what we know is right, are often two very different things. I wanted to be able to help Booboo get better, but as his health continued to decline and all glimpses of his personality were overwhelmed by his failing body, I soon had to face the fact that it was time to let him go…for his sake, far more than for ours.The rest of the family sadly agreed.

The date and time were set. Our vet, Kevin, agreed to come to our house. This was a true example of Kevin’s complete understanding of the loving bond between humans and their animal companions. I am deeply grateful that he was willing to do the euthanasia at our home, and I know that Booboo was grateful as well. Booboo never liked going to the vet.

The night before his last day, we had a picnic dinner with Booboo on our living room floor, while we watched a movie together. It was our last supper with him. A celebration of our time together and the start of our goodbyes. Booboo’s appetite had waned significantly in the past week. It was becoming quite a challenge to get him to eat at all. Our daughter Carolyn, who lived in town, brought cheese and speck for the picnic…which peaked Boo’s interest a bit.

The chosen movie had a picture of a human brain in the shape of a dog on the cover. “Wrong” was about a man desperately searching for his lost dog. It was a very strange movie, yet entirely appropriate for the situation. Booboo cuddled on our laps and snacked with us here and there, as we all basked in the moment.

That night Booboo had trouble sleeping again, due to discomfort from his troubled body. Although I was already pretty exhausted from disrupted sleep during many previous nights, I was able to approach this one differently. As our last night together, I would stay up with him for as long as he needed me. A couple hours later, we were able to settle back down to sleep.

On Booboo’s last day, he was not left alone. I brought him with me to work, so I could take care of a few tasks and then take the rest of the day off. People were surprised when I explained that this was Booboo’s last day. That he would be leaving us at 5pm. But then they looked straight at him, petted him gently, and said their goodbyes. We don’t always get the opportunity to say goodbye. When it happens, it should be appreciated and treasured.

Boo and I walked downtown a bit. Actually, I did the walking. His blindness, deafness, and tendency to walk in compulsive circles made it impossible for him to go on walks anymore. So I carried him. We stopped by one of his favorite parks. I put him in the sand of the volleyball court, which used to trigger an immediate need to dig…but not anymore. He stood there confused. I gently picked him up and we headed home.

For the next couple of hours, Booboo and I lay on the couch together, with him on my chest, sharing the warmth of our love and saying our wordless goodbyes. At about 4pm, Carolyn arrived and took over the Boo cuddling. At 5pm, Chuck got home…and shortly after that Kevin arrived.

The first injection was a general anesthetic to make Booboo unconscious. As the drug took effect, we held him close and showered him with our love. Booboo was then laid next to me on the couch, and Kevin gave him the final injection to shut down his poor, tired body. A few minutes later he was gone. His spirit released. No longer in pain.

Chuck sent a text to our out-of-town kids that said, “Hey, hey, Booboo! Let’s go get us some pic-a-nic baskets.” Booboo was now free to do just that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Learning to Not Help

Your child comes into the house crying. She has a scraped and bleeding knee. She tells you what happened and how she got hurt. You answer her questions and give her a hug. Then you walk away, leaving her crying and bleeding, and go back to what you were doing.

Can you imagine doing this? As a mom?! That’s not the way most moms are wired. It’s a mother’s job to make things better. Right? To take care of things. Fix things. Get the bandaids, bring the kleenex, solve the problems. Moms are not supposed to just walk away … leaving their children still hurting … to fend for themselves … heal their own wounds … solve their own problems … make their own decisions … manage the consequences of their choices … learn to take care of themselves … be motivated to prevent future injury by changing their actions … okay, wait a minute. Those last few things sounded important. Those are good things to learn.

Not helping my children in times of struggle or pain has been the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn as a mother. All I ever wanted for my kids was for them to be happy and healthy. And yet our most profound learning and growth comes through our struggles, our challenges, our tough decisions, and our physical and emotional pain. When parents step in and help too early or too often, they rob their children of important and often essential lessons.

When we are pushed to our limits, we learn the most about ourselves and the path we were meant to be on. When we think we can’t handle any more, and then we do, we learn that we are more capable and have more inner strength than we realized. When we keep pushing stubbornly in one direction until things start getting worse, rather than better, we can finally accept the need to switch paths. When we have trouble managing our finances and money gets really tight, we learn what’s really important to us and how little we actually need to get by.

A complicating factor is that the help offered might be the wrong kind of help. When trying to solve a problem, I typically put myself in the other person’s shoes. I then figure out what kind of help would make me feel better. But each person has his own insecurities, concerns, and goals. The things that would make me feel more comfortable and secure might not resolve the key problems for him/her…and might actually aggravate his/her situation.

Helping each other is an important part of family life. There are times when we really do need a back to lean on, a shoulder to cry on, or a cushion to fall on. And being able to help, to really make a difference in another person’s life, is intensely rewarding. It’s also important for kids to know how to ask for help, and for their parents to realize how much courage that takes.

When our kids ask, we really want to be able to say “yes”…and we do that as often as we can. But there are times when “no” is the most loving and helpful answer. I’m still working on learning that one.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Learning to Walk...Again

There is something humbling about taking something you already know how to do and trying to learn a new way to do it. Sometimes this is forced on us, due to an injury or other disability, and other times it is a conscious choice…to expand our awareness, skills, and abilities.

I’ve had this experience before when I taught myself to knit left-handed. I had decades of experience knitting right-handed, but as soon as I turned my knitting around, I was suddenly a novice…again. I learned patience and humility, and was reminded of the benefits of taking new things slowly – adding to your expectations as the motions start to feel more natural. As far as problems, mistakes, and frustrations go, most of them resolve on their own with additional practice. As I’ve regularly told my knitting students, we’ll just worry about the problems that won’t go away.

When I decided to kick off my shoes nearly two years ago (literally, and for as long and as much as possible), I figured I would need to allow time for my feet to toughen up, but overall I thought going barefoot would be pretty straight forward. I mean, sheesh, I already knew how to walk. I’ve been doing it since I was nine months old. (It’s true. I was an early walker.) So how hard could it be to just kick off my shoes?

Well, it turns out that barefoot walking is not the same as shoe walking. In fact, the only thing the two really have in common is that you are upright and putting one foot in front of the other. Aside from that, I can point out far more differences than similarities.

The two biggest differences are stride length and how your forward foot hits the ground. When wearing shoes, we learn to take long strides and hit the ground with our heel first. When walking barefoot, your stride is shorter and the ball of your foot is what comes in contact with the ground first…your heel coming down last.

I learned pretty quickly that walking barefoot was not just about kicking off one’s shoes. I had to abandon my old ways of walking and become a novice again. I found myself reading books and watching videos to learn how to walk barefoot. As frustration and confidence have taken their turns over the past couple of years of my barefooting journey, I’ve had to tell myself the same things I regularly tell my knitting students: Relax. You can do it. It’s easy once you learn how. Find your natural rhythm and it will become second nature.

Frustration kicked in again recently when I kept getting early-stage blisters on the balls of my feet, making it painful to walk barefoot. This has been an ongoing challenge. Clearly this was a problem that wouldn’t go away until I learned something new and changed how I was walking. After a day or two of wallowing in my frustration and sore feet, I took a deep breath and did some more research.

My problems seem to be related to poor posture, over-striding, and horizontal friction when the ball of my foot connects with the ground. (Thanks to Steven Sashan of Xero Shoes for the helpful info on his website!) So it’s time to take a couple of steps backwards and walk shorter distances until the adjustments I need to make start feeling more natural and become second nature.

Step-by-step we learn new things…sometimes more literally than others.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

First Days...

We thought we would be firm. We thought we would be able to teach our new puppy to sleep downstairs on his own. We are the humans. He is the dog. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Or so we thought.

After bringing our new puppy home, we made up a bed for him in the kitchen. Our three kids and I took turns sleeping near him or with him, in an attempt to help him feel more comfortable in his new surroundings. After a couple of nights of this, it was time to work on a more long-term solution. My longing for a full night’s sleep was becoming quite compelling. It was time to be firm. Kids in their own bed, me in mine, and the puppy in his. I put the pup in his bed and said good night.

It didn’t take long for him to start crying. Cries of loneliness, fear, and abandonment. He was barely 9 weeks old. Taken from his mom sooner than either of them cared for. Separated from his sister at the pet store…the only family bond he had left. And now he was in a strange house with strangers, who have abandoned him to sleep alone, in an empty room, through the dark, lonely night.

The puppy seems to like being with us, I thought while lying in bed listening to his cries. He’ll get used to sleeping on his own. That will never happen if I give in now. But he likes being held, cuddled, and comforted. He just wants to be with us. To not feel so alone. He’s so small and so young. Give it a bit longer and see if he settles down. Dum dee dum dee dum. Nope. I can’t just let him cry. What if he wakes the kids? He’s still getting to know us. Still adjusting to his strange, new home. He sounds so sad! How long has he been crying? Only five minutes. Yikes! This is going to be a long night.

I went downstairs. He was SO happy to see me. What a welcome for someone he just met a couple of days ago, and had only been apart from for five minutes. I picked him up and took him to the couch. If I sleep with him on the couch, it’s not like I’m giving in. The couch is different from our bed. He’ll know that.

It took a little while for him to settle down, but soon he was cuddled next to me. What if I roll over on him? He’s so darn little…just 1-1/2 pounds. I’ll have to learn to be cautious. To be aware of him even when I’m asleep, or when I’m just waking up. My mom-radar is already switched on for the kids. I’ll just fine-tune it to include puppies. Sleep soon happened for both of us, but it wasn’t a restful night for me. The couch is not my preferred bed.

As we approached bedtime on the next night, I wasn’t thrilled about sleeping on the couch again. My fatigue was a growing issue that needed addressing. And so, a decision was made. I needed a decent night’s sleep. The way to achieve that was to give this young puppy what he so desperately needed…comfort, contact, and a sense of security. Booboo, who now finally had a name, would be sleeping with us. And so it went for the next fifteen years.

Chuck says that this was the first reality-check for him regarding the dog. The awareness that this puppy might end up being our dog, rather than the kids’ dog. Years later when the kids grew up and moved out, one-by-one, and didn’t take Booboo with them, his suspicions were finally confirmed. I, on the other hand, knew from the beginning that Booboo would be with me and Chuck for the distance. As much as he was a family dog, the long-term bond was between Booboo and me.

As Booboo settled in, we began teaching him things that were necessary for us to get along well together. Things like doing his piddles and poos outside or on the newspaper, not biting too hard when playing, and not barking excessively. At the same time, we realized that he was teaching us as well…bedtime for him was 9pm, don’t play too rough, remember to fill his water dish, and take him along when we go on an outing. As the years went by, it became difficult to say for sure who was teaching whom. Knowledge and learning was happening both ways. Did we teach him or did he teach us? Regardless of the direction of the lesson, learning was definitely happening…and in hindsight, it was I who benefited the most. Some of the lessons were direct from Booboo to me, and yet many more were indirect, through shared experiences and challenges that I would not have encountered without him.

A definite bond has evolved between dogs and humans. It got its start some 50,000-ish years ago when dogs agreed to be the first domesticated animal. When a dog joins a human family, he takes his place within the pack and strives to achieve and maintain a strong, positive relationship with his human companions. Dogs have learned to trust, depend on, collaborate with, protect, and love their human families. And just as each human has individual needs, quirks, personality traits, and a unique perspective on life and its situations, so do dogs. We can learn much from each other, if we take the time to see the world through the other’s eyes.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Walking Barefoot

I have been washing my feet a lot lately. Every night, in fact. It has become a ritual; a way of ending the day and preparing for my night’s sleep. This is different from taking a bath or shower, where one’s feet just happen to get clean in the process. Instead, this is focused attention on just my feet, one at a time… gently, lovingly, appreciatively.

As I wash, I get to know each foot a bit better. I rub the soap between my toes, around my heel, and across the ball of my foot – which is becoming increasingly smooth and leathery. I feel the muscles that have grown stronger, now that they’re finally being used again, providing the arch support as nature intended. I check for any minor injuries and give those a bit of extra attention and care.

As I wash my left foot, I always pause at the scar on my ankle bone. It’s slightly over an inch long and at an angle that goes from my heel to my instep. For me, this scar represents the epitome of human arrogance. A physical manifestation of science and medicine believing it can improve on nature.

This scar sometimes makes me sad, sometimes angry, but mostly it makes me determined. It reminds me how disconnected people can become from nature’s design. How much we expect science, technology, and “experts” to solve our problems… and the many new problems that this path creates. How often we look for a new “fix” to an existing problem, rather than letting go of the previous fix that created it.

When faced with an incompatibility between nature and science (my foot and shoes), the doctor told my Mom that nature was at fault and needed to be altered. He could have concluded that there was something wrong with my shoes, or even all shoes, but that’s not what he was trained to do.

The unspoken motto of modern medicine is, “When in doubt, do something.” And often the more invasive the better, because at least you’re taking action, you’re trying, you’re doing your best to remedy the problem. Non-action makes doctors uncomfortable. Just go to a doctor with a problem and say “no, thanks” to all their drugs and procedures, and you’ll see what I mean. Society has also been trained to feel uncomfortable with inaction. “I have a problem. Aren’t you going to do something to help fix it?!” We have lost our faith in nature, in the human body’s ability to heal.

The idea that either doing nothing or un-doing something is often the best course of action is way too radical for most people to handle. In a society where doing nothing or doing less is considered lazy, non-productive, and shows a lack of caring, we often feel forced to take action…even if such action doesn’t help or actually makes the problem worse.

What was the human creation that caused problems for my left foot? Shoes. And the solution that science and medicine came up with to fix that problem? Alter my ankle bone to fit the shoes better.

I was nine or ten years old. Shoes regularly rubbed my left ankle bone, making it sore. Going with the accepted course of action for the period (the 1960’s), I was taken to a doctor to find a solution to this problem. The doctor concluded that my left ankle bone was too big, giving fault to my body rather than the shoes. If the bone was shaved down a bit, making it smaller, shoes would no longer rub that area – thus solving my problem. This is the course of action that was taken.

The surgery itself was not traumatic for me. Reducing the size of my ankle bone solved the specific problem I was having. Medical intervention for physical problems was accepted in our family. It’s only in hindsight that I’ve been bothered; when I look back on what the decision meant, what it says about our way of thinking, our disconnection with nature, our willingness to embrace significant intervention rather than altering or letting go of previous human creations.

It also shows how the solution that seems obvious to me now, going barefoot as much as possible, didn’t even occur to us as an option back then. I have the same problem when I try to imagine how my life would have been different if I had been homeschooled or unschooled, as we did with our own children. Clearly that never would have happened. It wasn’t even considered an option; not even a flicker of the imagination. If we can’t even imagine it, it probably won't happen.

When walking barefoot, I find the reactions I get from people to be fascinating. Frequently a person will comment that they wish they could walk barefoot, but quickly conclude that they can't for a typical variety of reasons. Rather than concluding that they can't, however, if they instead asked, "What would it take for me to be able to walk barefoot?" the door to a barefoot future might start to open.