Another Man's Shoes

I have walked many miles in other people's shoes, and it was for me the most difficult of all my worldly treks. I saw ugly and I saw beauty. I walked with evil and good. It was hard at first to let go of my own ego and judgmental stance. The more I tried to walk in the shoes of others, the easier it became.

The biggest shoes I ever filled were the car-tire sandals of my enemy. It was those sandals that changed my life and caused me to cry at odd times and in strange places. Here were men and women protecting their homeland and way of life. I came along to fight communism and kill all the bullies that swung their iron fists in the faces of helpless rice farmers. That was the indoctrination I received prior to landing in Vietnam in August of 1965. The very people we were sent to protect ended up being the same people shooting at us. I did not understand at first. I just reacted like the warrior I was so highly trained to be. The last time I saw faces of comrades was when the body bag was zipped and they were unceremoniously tossed into the belly of a helicopter. I walked in their boots too. I was the very epitome of the walking dead. I never had a chance to tell my enemies that I was sorry for what I did to them and to the families who would annoint their faces before burying them in a round grave.

Those sandals are walked in every day of my present life, just as the jungle boots of my brothers. Fifty years later there is still no cushion in any of them. I feel each and every step and regret so much having to wear them. The saving grace, if there is such a thing, is that the horror made me a better man. I never react to anything these days until I walk in the shoes of others. Some shoes are too tight for long wear, so I take them off and put my own back on. I am comfortable in my shoes today. I am at peace with all I have done in war, and in serenity. I am possessed of a clear mind and a soul rich in love and mercy. I am finally and at long last kind to myself.

All of us in this classroom have had incredible experiences, and each and every one of us is a novel waiting to be written. We are journeyers from darkness to light. We are free of reaction and embrace what we have become precisely because of who we were.

I don't do much walking these days, but I dance in my dreams, and I run with the wind. I run happy with the wind shouting to the skies: "Thank you for my life. Thank you for all the shoes."

Joe Labriola