There are moments in our life that with hindsight we can easily point to and understand the impact they had on us. Be it the first time a parent holds their newborn child. The first time a teacher is able to tap into the hidden potential of one of their most disinterested students. The first time a student is able to learn the value of dedication and hard work and witnesses their efforts pay off with the grade they aimed to achieve. It’s weird to think that at every single moment these life-defining experiences are unfolding all across the world.
In my 20 years on this earth, I’ve had quite a few of these moments. The time I decided to take my faith seriously, the death of a close friend, my quiet musings while interning in New York. These moments have definitely shaped me and are contributors to the person writing this piece today.
It’s very easy in the scrapbook of these experiences to give priority and respect to the ‘major’ moments and discard the ‘minor’ moments. I’m sure we’ve all subconsciously done it. I know right up until a few days ago, I certainly did. A moment which has shaped me immensely but one which I relegated to the back of my mind. And so here this piece comes into play. An attempt to give this moment the recognition it is due.
This moment takes me back to the playground of St Aloysius RC Secondary School. A terrain in which I learnt a lot of lessons, some good and some bad. But this lesson trumps them all:
In my secondary school, similar to many secondary schools in London, your customisation of your school uniform could be inferred to have been a symbol of social status. (It’s actually funny when you pay attention because even the innocence and ragged climate of the playground is a microcosm of society) Kickers, weren’t necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing shoes but you had to have them if you wanted to run with the cool kids. And so like the sky is blue it was conditioned in our minds that having Kickers was a pre-requisite for one to be cool (well in my school at least).
This wasn’t necessarily a problem for me and my friends as nagging our parents early enough in the summer holidays would result in us being able to flaunt our kickers on the first day of term come September. For the kids that weren’t so fortunate, they would have to embrace another year of being on the wrong end of the playground, classroom and Facebook banter. That’s life, I guess. But one day, something happened that would call everything I ever held as concrete into question.
One of my friends who had Kickers, decided not to wear his Kickers into school anymore. It shouldn’t have shocked me. It was something he had been saying he would have done for a while. We laughed in our Biology lessons when he described how they were just shoes with an inflated importance. We called him a philosopher and then spouted our flimsy theories as to why they were more than shoes. The coloured stitching, the metal tags, the fact that everyone that was anyone in our school had them. Our theories did not work and there he was in the playground without Kickers and wearing the shoes that were normally reserved for our reluctant journeys to Church on Sunday. It shocked me.
To be honest, it did more than shock me. It changed me and I didn’t even realise it. I couldn’t have seen then with my immature mentality but what my friend was doing, was light years ahead of us. He was by virtue of wearing different shoes challenging notions of what constituted cool. I laughed, as we all did, when he stepped into form class with his church shoes. But, the laughs only lasted a while.
Weeks went by and he was still in our social circle and still wearing the shoes that had him mocked. He didn’t care and eventually we didn’t.
As I reflected on how the situation panned out, I started to mentally question whether how many times I was sent out of class or how many exclusions I received was a satisfactory gauge for one’s coolness. Questions which couldn’t be answered with the same flimsy rationale I used to try and defend why I thought Kickers were a requisite. Questions which would eventually lead me on the path I’m currently taking.
So here’s to the moments that shape us. Every single one of them. The major and minor experiences that make us the people we are today. Who knew a pair of church shoes could prove so pivotal?