One should not take new shoes on vacation. New shoes, no matter how cute, are never comfortable enough for the rigors of walking tours, souvenir shopping or sprints between terminals at an international airport. New shoes are nearly always going to let you down.
I know this. I knew this as I packed the new shoes in my suitcase. I justified their presence inside the suitcase, along with the TSA-mandated one-quart plastic bag of 3.4-ounce toiletries, by noting their classic style and neutral color. I suppressed the memory of every pair of espadrilles I’d ever owned causing blisters the first time I wore them.
Three days later I was in the Kalihi Valley, a low-income neighborhood outside Honolulu, where a community nonprofit provides an after-school program focusing on native traditions and cultures, a farm-to-table initiative and comprehensive medical care, including care in the native traditions. Over the next four hours I would see handmade canoes constructed by children, taste fresh sweet potato noodles and lemongrass tea, observe a sacred space built of pili grass and stone and visit the recently-completed apothecary, where medical treatment, including lomi lomi (traditional Hawaiian massage), is administered.
I would also develop blisters. Hot, stinging blisters.
Back at the hotel I put Band-Aids on the blisters. I also put on different shoes. With socks.
Over the next four days the thought of blisters was far from my mind. I walked miles and miles up and down a beach very unlike the mind. I walked miles and ones I know. A beach where trees grow close enough to the water that you can sit in their shade and use their scaly trunks as support. A beach where the sand is, in places, the color of light brown sugar and is everywhere the consistency of cornmeal. A beach that is not edged by sand dunes and sea oats, but sidewalks.
On the fifth day I got home. After 13 hours on an airplane, all I wanted to do was take a shower. I dropped everything — my suitcase, my backpack, the big shopping bag of Honolulu Cookie Company cookies in various packaging options — in a big pile and stepped under the hot water. As I dried off, the adhesive on the Band-Aids finally let go and slid off in my hands. Stuck to my skin, stuck to the open skin of my heel in little rows, were tiny grains of sand. Brown sugar sand. Cornmeal sand.
It is hard to carry things on our furless bodies. Unlike our animal kin, we don’t generally transport anything inadvertently, no sprigs or seeds or soil. But here I was, 4,648 miles away from Hawaii, a place I had been, but was no longer, and I had brought home a part of it. Brought it home in my wounds.
Sigh. Ain’t that always the way?
The wounds of a well-traveled life are invisible and the souvenirs something other than sand, but the blisters, backaches and broken bones are the repositories for the only relics worth keeping. For it is only in the places that hurt — acutely, severely, chronically — that the sprigs of character take root, that the seeds of memories fall, that the soil of love is turned. Things that matter cannot grow on the surface.
It was foolish, of course, to pack new shoes and it was painful to wear them, but I do not regret either. I came home with keepsakes worth every grain of sand.