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Who Took My Shoes

A doctor came in with a needle in his hand. “This is going to hurt,” he said. He did little to hide the sadness he felt about the pain he had to inflict. “I’m so sorry,” he kept saying in a Celtic accent.

But I needed that pain to get to the other side of cancer.

“Bring it on, doctor,” I said. “I’m one tough cookie.” Really, I wasn’t concerned about the pain. I’m from the midwest, and we’re not wimps. Plus, I have four brothers. By the time I was in grade school, I’d been beat up, rolled in dirt, and showered with insults. I’d seen my teddy bear dangling from a noose. I’d had socks in my mouth, snails in my bed, and pepper in my milk.

Don’t worry; I dished out as good as I got. There’s not much the world can do that tops the torture, or the joy, of growing up with six siblings. So the doctor gave me the shot, and it wasn’t that bad.

Before I knew it, they were wheeling me off for a nipple-saving lumpectomy. I imagined my surgeons with the medical equivalent of a melon baller scraping up every last cancerous cell that had the audacity to outlive chemo.

That night, I got to stay in the hospital, and nurses made sure I was comfortable while my husband finally got a good night’s sleep somewhere else. But in the midst of all those miracles, somebody stole my shoes.

“Um,” a hospital administrator said the next morning. I’m not sure what his title was, but he got stuck delivering the bad news: my shoes were gone. Sheepish, he offered a pair of slippers from the gift shop so I could go home without getting my socks wet. Later, the hospital sent a check to reimburse me, a check I lost amidst reams of insurance notices, bills, forms and receipts that make up the paper trail of cancer.

But that bill wasn’t the hospital’s to pay anyway. It wasn’t their fault one of their staff members decided to be dishonest.

Sometimes I wonder about that thief, about the person who made off with a cancer patient’s stuff. What horrible circumstance compelled it? What twists and turns had that life taken, how long the thief had been miserable, and where had my shoes landed? Did the thief wear them or trade them for drugs or money?

I’ve been the victim of a lot of crime and have had practice contemplating these questions. At first, the crimes made me mad. Now, I’m in a more neutral space, one that allows me to consider the circumstances of people who make dark and lonely choices.

If my shoes did get traded for drugs that day, I hope they were the very ones that brought the culprit to rock bottom, that he didn’t have to wallow there for long or hurt many more people on his way down.

I visualize the thief using my shoes to get to a better path, one of light and love and beauty, where needs are met and where he is strong enough to help others, not hurt them. That day,

I rode home from the hospital in my new slippers, watching vineyards blur by my windows, another step further on my long path to recovery. One of the first encounters I had at that hospital was with the soft-spoken Celt. Then I experienced the unrivaled competence of two amazing surgeons and the team of experts who support them. Through it all, I felt the unwavering love of my husband, the person who is always with me every step of the way.

And in the background, unseen, is one lone thief, trying to get something for nothing. But all of us know the world doesn’t work that way.

As I felt the sun through my window, reveling in the miracle of survival, I prayed that some of that light would make its way into the thief’s life. And that he realizes the only shoes anyone can possibly fill are their own.


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