‘If you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew.’ Pocohontas

 I had already picked this quote for today when the interactive Universe made some slick moves to remind me that nothing ever happens by accident.

My reason for picking it had to do solely with the amount of dissension there is right now among members of the human race – individually, culturally, and globally humanity is suffering in too many ways to count.

The fact that today’s quote comes from the Disney song ‘Colors of the Wind’ does not dilute its wisdom one bit- the concept is a truth for the ages – a reminder that often times the only way we soften our judgment of another, is when we have to step into their shoes.

So I had already chosen the quote for today’s blog and mentally formulated the thoughts above about it, when Ajay and I took off to run a few errands together yesterday afternoon. One of the things that we had on our ‘to do’ list was to get Ajay a new pair of soccer shoes.  It is a ritual we have completed together many times- and it can often be painful. For as rough and tumble of a kid as he is, he has tender irritable little feet. We often will try on half a dozen pairs of shoes before he can find some that ‘feel right’- and all too often we leave empty handed (or should I say empty footed?) with a slew of boxes and an exasperated shoe salesman in our wake.

Yesterday was not one of those days. From dozens of choices on the wall, he honed in on one pair like a laser beam, tried them on… and it was a one and done trip.

As soon as we got home the first thing he wanted to do was to break his shoes in with a few kicks. As he ran to get the rest of his soccer gear, I pulled them out of the box and began removing the paper packing stuffed within them.  As soon as they were clear of the debris, my eyes fell upon the word ‘Messi’ written in bold red writing on the inner sole of each shoe. The shoes themselves are Adidas brand, but the fact that they were a special “Messi’ edition was a detail that went unnoticed by both of us at the shoe store. As I looked at these shoes Ajay would  soon be placing his feet in, the quote I had been staring at all morning flashed across the screen of my mind. The significance registered in a Nano second – and I broke into a grin.

Backstory: For the last several weeks, we have been glued to the TV as a family- enthralled with the Euro Cup Soccer Tournament that will finish today. As teams from all over the globe have competed, it has been a chance to watch some of the most elite soccer players in the world go head to head against one another.

Out of the hundreds of players we have watched in the last few weeks, there are dozens of them that Ajay loves. There is one – and only one- that he holds open disdain for. His name is Lionel Messi. This particular player had a heartbreaking ending to this championship series last week when he missed what could have been a game winning goal. Feeling he had let his teammates down, he actually announced his retirement from future Euro Cups in response to this loss. (In the days following this things got even worse in the life of Messi. He was found guilty of tax evasion in his native Argentina and he now awaits his fate in a much larger arena than a soccer stadium.)

Legal problems aside, Messi is a world-class athlete and there are a lot of things to respect about him. As a player he is relentless- and always leaves everything he has out on the field. Even if you are cheering for the opposing team, it is almost impossible to watch Messi play and not smile. Unless you are Ajay. He stubbornly refuses to give any props to Messi at all. This blanket dislike for him has nagged at me and it is something we have had much discussion about. Lately, it has become clear, that I can talk until I am blue in the face- to Ajay, Messi has no redeeming qualities at all. So while many consider him to be the greatest soccer player in the world right now, Ajay has decided not to consider him at all…

So, of course…. When he picked out those shoes, he had no idea that they came from the signature line of his nemesis…. And when I bought them for him I certainly had no idea that they were a real life version of the quote I had queued up for today’s blog.

After my discovery, I walked out to the back yard and gingerly approached Ajay with the shoes. As we sat on the grass to start getting them on his feet, I asked him if he ‘really really’  loved his new shoes? He answered strongly in the affirmative. I asked him if they for sure felt really good on his feet? Again, he assured me they did indeed. I then pulled the tongue open wide on the one shoe that was not yet on his foot. I let him read the name splayed across the interior. In a show of feigned drama he slapped his little palm to his forehead and cried , ‘NOOOOOOOOOOOO!’ as he fell backwards onto the grass…. For a second I was afraid we were going to be heading back to the shoe store to make an exchange, but soon I could hear his laughter bubbling up from underneath his exasperation.

With no resistance at all, he slipped the other shoe on and spent the rest of the afternoon drilling balls into the back of  a soccer net.

I very much liked the fact that he was willing to wear those shoes- I know it doesn’t mean much in the objective world, but in the world of energy, I loved what it implied. It told me that we all have it in us to learn to walk in the shoes of another- and in doing so, we follow the footsteps toward empathy and wisdom.  It was pretty clear Ajay didn’t find deep meaning in our ‘Messi’ moment, but I sure did.

Most of the time I write my blog in the evening, and it is a reflection of what the day has brought my way… it is not often that I pick my quote early in the day and my world arranges itself to reflect it perfectly. It has been a great reminder that even within this ‘Messi’ world we live in -there is order and there is meaning.

* And here is the kicker- pun intended.

After spending all day outside in those shoes,  at 4pm Ajay had to take them off and replace them with his indoor cleats for a 5 o’clock game. At one point his team was down by 7 goals,and in soccer this is a pretty formidable number. When the second half began he led the charge on a no holds barred come back attempt. When all was said and done, his team lost the game by two points, but through sheer determination he had managed to score 11 goals himself. 

I am not sure if Ajay’s spending the day in Messi’s shoes had anything at all to do with it, but last night, he was like a boy possessed! His footwork was unlike anything we had ever seen him do before…. and eleven goals is more than double what he had ever scored in a single game prior to this. He is a born athlete, so he always plays well, but last night, he truly left every ounce of what he had on the field.

He is just 9 years old, so he has a lot of time ahead of him, but last night he played the game of his life….. so far 🙂 

Perhaps this was because ‘when we agree to walk the footsteps of a stranger, we learn things we never knew. ..we never knew.’