by Barbara Holland From Endangered Pleasures
TWO out of every five adults take off their shoes whenever they can, and the other three don’t seem to mind having their feet smothered.
I arrive at this figure by way of my own family. One of my brothers and I go barefoot even in winter, to the continuing echo of our mother’s voice saying, “Aren’t your feet cold?” and “Where are your shoes?” and “Put something on your feet!” Our three siblings wear shoes. Or sandals, or bedroom slippers, or sometimes just socks, but always something to render their feet deaf and blind. I don’t know whether or not there’s a genetic component involved.
My brother and I don’t long to rip off the rest of out clothes; we don’t wear impractical shoes; our feet in shoes don’t hurt; we aren’t seeking relief from the pinch. It’s just that we’re always, at some level of consciousness, aware of whatever’s wrapped around us down there, as of a hand lightly but immovably across our mouths all day. For us and others like us, the moment of taking off the footwear is a relief and a joy, and in summer, with the barefoot hours extended into days, our personalities change. Barefoot, we’re almost always at peace. We’re gentle and tolerant with our fellow man. Stress and anxiety evaporate and grief itself seems bearable as long as our feet are free.…
For some of us, the soul is resident in the sole, and yearns ceaselessly for light and air and self-expression. Our feet are our very selves. The touch of floor or carpet, grass or mud or asphalt, speaks to us loud and clear from the foot, that scorned and lowly organ as dear to us as our eyes and ears.…
Maybe the whole world secretly understands that free feet produce a different, more philosophical, relaxed, and unbusinesslike mindset. Without shoes, our ambitions would fade away, wolfish trade practices seem too much trouble, international frictions look foolish. Armies would curl up to take a nap. Nobody would get any serious work done and the world would go straight to hell.
Considered in this light, going barefoot is almost as much a vice as a pleasure. Subversive. Counterproductive, like smoking pot. Which isn’t likely to stop us two out of five who revel in it.
Yes, Mother, some of the time our feet are cold. And yes, we do run the risk of stepping on bits of broken glass in the house and, outside, bees in the clover. As they say in the Pentagon, it’s an acceptable risk. Highly acceptable.
The entire essay on Bare Feet is only about 1.5 pages long so we could have quoted all of it above; but one is only entitled to “quote brief passages for review” without violating copyright law. We have edited a few paragraphs so, out of a 175-page book, we are quoting only about 0.6% of the entire text.