In Her Shoes
I stood in front of my closet, staring at her shoes. I needed to put my feet in them, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. My sister had died only a few months before. I’d been given her favorite shoes, a pair of grey, slip-on Converse with white laces. Since then, I’d made it my mission to take her shoes on adventures and to special occasions where she would have loved to attend. Every time I slid them on, though, the joy of taking a piece of her with me came with a large side of pain.
Aside from the trauma of watching her die slowly from a terrorizing form of cancer, and aside from the fact that I was fighting the family court system to obtain custody of her children who were spiraling down vortexes of grief themselves, I simply missed her.
I missed the way she laughed and the way she cherished the smallest things. I missed her Basic White Chick obsession with Pumpkin Spice Everything. I even missed the attitude she’d throw my way when I pulled Big-Sister rank.
Every time I put on her shoes I was reminded that I wouldn’t see her again for a long time.
I loved those shoes. I hated them, too. Loving, and losing, hurt.
I scooped them up and shoved my feet into them. This was no time for hesitation. I had to catch the ferry if I wanted to make the subway connection to Times Square in order to claim my spot in line for the show. I’d scored two tickets to Good Morning America a few weeks before. The number one item on her bucket list was to attend a taping of GMA and see Robin Roberts in action. Robin, a two-time cancer survivor, was my sister’s hero and inspiration. Throughout her battle with cancer, my sister watched Mandisa’s “Overcomer” music video, the lyrics and the footage of Robin’s own battle with cancer lended her hard-to-come-by hope in her darkest times.
When I heard that Mandisa was set to perform on the show, I knew I had to be there—both of my sister’s heroes in the one place she dreamed of going the most! My only goal was to wear her shoes to the show and catch a glimpse of Robin and Mandisa.
Robin stepped on set and tears began to brim in my eyes. I could almost feel my little sister’s excitement pulsing up from her shoes and into my body.
Oh, Sister. This is it! I thought as the show began.
At the first commercial break, I noticed Robin interacting with the audience. My heart quickened. Maybe I could meet her. Maybe even get a picture with our shoes.
I maneuvered my way through the crowd and waited impatiently for my turn to speak with her. Come on, people. I tapped my sister’s shoe as I stood in line for what seemed like an eternity.
Suddenly, I was standing in front of Robin and—miraculously—stammering through an explanation of why I was there and whose shoes I was wearing and why it was important for me to meet her while I had these shoes on my feet. Robin’s own eyes began to fill with tears.
Thank you for sharing this moment with me, she said.
I asked her if we could take a picture of our shoes together. Her tears now flowed freely—television makeup be damned—and she said, Of course.
As I sat down, my heart was so full it felt like it might explode. What I’d just experienced was more than my sister could have dreamed. Her story—full of pain and beauty—connected with her hero and touched her deeply. Robin Roberts now knew my sister in some mystical way, two souls in a wide world, meeting briefly with the recognition of kindred experience.
For all the pain and the grief and the aching loss, there was still gold to be found after all.
After the next commercial break, I heard my name called from across the studio. Startled, I realized it was Robin. She wanted to introduce me to Mandisa. Nearly dumbstruck, I somehow managed to explain myself to Mandisa and tell her how much her music meant to my sister. Like me, like Robin, like all those who understand the cruelty of death, Mandisa began to cry too.
My best friend died of cancer last year, she said.
I hugged her, in my sister’s shoes, in solidarity for those of us who are left behind with our love.
I sat down again, marveling at the day, the pure gold of it all!
At the next commercial break, Robin called to me again. This time, she told me she wanted the whole world to hear the story of my sister’s shoes. She said we were going live in a few seconds. As the protests were forming in my throat, the camera flashed LIVE and Robin was introducing me to the world.
My sister’s story was broadcast live to an untold number of people. Louder than her suffering or her losses or the tragedy of dying too soon, the story of her shoes shouted to the world: LOVE ENDURES FOREVER!
From the other side of the thin veil between this world and the next, my sister connected with others and was honored by them. Love is the gold that can never be stolen by death.
As Mandisa sang a beautiful song of healing, Robin hugged me to her side and whispered,
Your sister is proud of you.
Love endures and it also circulates. I went to GMA to give love back to my sister, to honor her memory. Her memory gave love and honor to Robin and Mandisa. Robin gave love and honor back to me.
That’s the way it is with God’s gold. It goes from us, making us vulnerable to hurt. Yet, it always comes back to us, more beautiful from the circulation.
As I walked away from the studio that day, I felt a little lighter in her shoes than I had before. Where there had been pain, now there was wonder. Where there had been disconnection, now there was a mystical intimacy.
Though I could no longer see her or hear her or touch her, my sister’s spirit endured. Loving and losing does often come with the cost of pain, but whatever is taken is always returned more beautiful than it was before.