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  • Reverend James Squire

Two Pairs of Shoes

When I looked in my father’s closet when I was a kid, I saw a pair of gray work pants, several white shirts, and a few ties, that he had to wear to work, and two pairs of shoes sat on the closet floor. I turned and asked him about the two pairs of shoes. Why just two? He responded, “One is for work and the other for church.” As a meat cutter and later a fish man in a store after a stroke made his hands too unsteady to use a knife, he was always standing on a wet floor or saw dust that made the floor less slippery when cutting meat. The work shoes were worn and obvious where they had been. The shoes for church looked almost new. He was one of the people who attend church on Easter and Christmas, but prayed every night on his knees after a crippling stroke. I never asked why he never attended church on a regular basis. He wore the one suit at his viewing and burial.

When I asked him about having just two pairs of shoes, he responded, “That is all that I need!” I can never remember him wanting much in material things in his life and he seemed content with the bare minimum of “things.” I never heard him complain about much of anything. He seemed grateful for everything that he had. He was an engaging kind person who always communicated that he had “enough.”

“I wish I had or I wish I could” were never part of the grammar of his psyche and soul. He never was envious of anyone who seemed to have it easier than he had it. So, I watched how he handled the simple life that he had chosen. I was proud that he put one of his two sisters through college. I learned that from his sister, Ann, and not from him. He would brush a comment commending his efforts quickly with the understanding that helping your sister is just what you did, nothing more and nothing less.

I, however, wanted much more that I could give and get from life. I have been fiercely competitive, highly motivated, and saw obstacles in life as walls that spoke to me about how badly I wanted something. But what was equally empowering to me were the memory of those two pairs of shoes. They enabled me to feel that at any step on the road, I could move forward and at every accomplishment of every goal, I could still feel that I had enough.

It may strike others as crazy for when you have high goals and strive for achievement, it is usually because you aren’t satisfied with where you currently find yourself. However, you can acquire things and goals and still feel paradoxically that you have enough. Wanting more does not need to mean that you aren’t satisfied where you find yourself in this moment, in this place, with what you value surrounding you.

I could never fully understand why I seemed to feel along life’s way that I had enough until I had an awakening in a strange unpredictable way. It was a story told by John Bogle that was the preface to his book, Enough, where he spells out the ethical, moral, and spiritual values upon which he founded Vanguard, which has $7.50 trillion in assets.

During a typical Vestry meeting, the student spiritual leaders of EA, with whom I met three times a week at lunch to discuss feedback and direction of the chapel program, one of the members whose family was friendly with John Bogle asked, “Could we have John Bogle come in and speak about his book?” Knowing that Mr. Bogle is booked years ahead to speak at financial organizations, colleges, and universities, I thought that there was little chance of that happening, but I didn’t what to rain on this student’s desire to have him speak in chapel. At the next meeting, she quietly said that he can speak in two weeks. Just give him a date!

A preface to Bogle’s book, Enough, contains the following story which is the basis for what is to come in the book: “At a party Kurt Vonnegut tells Joseph heller that their host (a hedge fund manager) had made more money in a day than Heller made from his book, Catch – 22.” Heller says, “Yes, but I have something that he will never have...enough.”

One of Bogle’s favorite images is a sign in Einstein’s office “that there are some things that can’t be counted and some things that can be counted that don’t count.”

The things that can’t be counted is to have that attitude of having “enough.” I realized then that I got it by watching my father move through life working hard and doing his best often giving to others, but more importantly as well, those two pairs of shoes, one for work and one for church that are symbols for me of having “enough.” I am grateful for that legacy!

The author, Heller, had it right. You can have significant achievement and at the same time feel both the journey and the destination can be enough. But somewhere along the road to your future you need to have experienced someone who knows the meaning of having “enough.”

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