Even though it has been years, it seems like only yesterday that I was taking Anthony shopping for his first pair of dress shoes. After much searching, he slipped his feet into some very sharp looking leather box toed dress shoes with tasteful silver buckles. I thought they looked great; Anthony looked at me as if I had lost my mind. Now you need to understand that when it comes to shoes, Imelda Marcos cannot hold a candle to Anthony’s shoe collection. He had, and still does have, canvas and leather sport shoes for every occasion a young man might encounter in life –shoes with color, shoes with shock absorber-like springs in the heels, shoes that radiate every aspect of his personality, shoes for a special date, shoes and more shoes. But, these glistening stiff leather “boxes” as he called them while gazing at me with dubious eyes, were not going to cut it. He was used to his usual kicks that reflected his personality and he definitely was not seeing his personality in these puppies. In his mind, he was only going to wear them once for a formal family occasion. In my mind (as I watched him clomp around the shoe department in disgust) I envisioned him stepping up in life, accepting more responsiblity, attending more formal occasions as he polished yet another facet of his wonderful personality.
So, the shoes came home with us and Anthony began breaking them in. Up and down the driveway he went, scuffing the smooth shiny soles so he would not slip on slick floors, bouncing up and down on tip toe so the uppers would begin to soften on his feet. It took time to get used to the new look down there at the end of his legs but, eventually, he became comfortable in them and was ready to don the new dress clothes completing his transformation from casual to a more formal, responsible look. And of course my mother’s heart melted when he emerged from his bedroom, ready to go to that formal family affair, looking like a million bucks and flashing that mile wide smile of his– the same Anthony, yet different – he had taken a step up in life in those new shoes.
Anthony has been spending the last few months getting used to the new shoes life has handed him as a result of his battle with Crohn’s disease. As his reward for a battle well fought, Crohn’s presented him with a pair of sturdy shoes that are tight, restrictive and definitely not his style. But he put them on with many doubts he would ever feel fully comfortable in them. Knowing this pair was not going to disappear, he began breaking them in little by little, one scuff step and toe bounce at a time, learning his new normal as the shoes softened, ever so slightly, conforming to his feet.
These new shoes have taken him to public speaking engagements to educate medical personnel about Crohn’s from a patient’s perspective, to classes to advance his education, to the sides of newly diagnosed Crohnies and to the cemetery as he carried his beloved friend, Bridget, to her final rest and now, straight into a leadership role in the Crohn’s community he helped bring to life. Although these new shoes are getting a good breaking in, we both seem to know deep down that they will always need work to keep them flexible and soft, yet stay sturdy enough to support the long journey they will take Anthony on.
Ready to head out to one of his speaking engagements, my mother’s heart melted once again as I looked at my son, now warrior. Hardened by his battle with a hideous disease, yet softened to the point where he can intuitively read the eyes of a fellow Crohnie. He was fired up, ready to give voice to others like him. Anthony once told me that while he would never want to repeat that year in hell fighting for his life, he said it was a good experience because changed him forever. It did. His comment reminded me of something a wise woman once told me; “Lisa, God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called.”
There he stood before me, my warrior son in his new shoes, ready to go, flashing his mile wide smile. It was the same Anthony, yet different; he was now qualified for the journey God created just for him.