When I was in my twenties, my favorite footwear was cowboy boots. At that time in my life—such a long time ago now—I preferred Wrangler jeans and a pair of unadorned and scuffed Tony Lamas. Just about any sort of shirt would do, but I was especially drawn to those with pearl snaps rather than buttons. I didn’t wear a cowboy hat (ten-gallon or otherwise) because I’ve always thought I looked like a dork in hats. And who wants to go to the trouble of getting all gussied up properly and then end up looking like a dweeb?
During the boot phase of my life, I was living in Lubbock, Texas, a smallish sort of metropolis and a place the locals rather grandiosely liked to call “The Hub City.” Why they’ve named it that is beyond the understanding of most thinking people. The city is located out in the middle of nowhere and there are no spokes radiating off of it and heading in any meaningful directions that I was ever able to ascertain. In fact, there is no “hub” in The Hub City.
That was a strange time in my life. At the end of a series of events that to this day seem surreal, I found myself suddenly without work and on the public dole. Being unemployed can cause a person to shift into survival mode. It also encourages outside-the-box thinking. As the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
I ended up joining the Peace Corps, going abroad, having many metaphysical experiences, and undergoing a complete metamorphosis. Poland, in Eastern Europe, is where all this took place. Losing that job ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.
Because I was a creature of habit at the time I left to live in Poland, I took my boots. They must have been very important because I was only allowed to carry two modestly sized suitcases with me to live abroad for two years.
I tromped about on the streets and sidewalks in Poland in my Tony Lamas. The locals took one look at my exotic footwear and knew I was from someplace that could have been as far away as the moon.
Bear with me. We’re about to get to the juicy parts.
My boots served me well right up until the snows began to fall and the sidewalks started getting icy and slippery. Then those slick-bottomed things had me sliding around and falling on a regular basis. I’d bust my shins, bloody my knees, and twist my ankles and knees as I fell to the hard, frozen ground on a nearly hourly basis. My body was nothing but one big contusion at that time.
Still, I was stubborn. I didn’t want to give up my boots. I’d already had to give up my language, family, and everything that seemed familiar and therefore comforting. I was a stranger in a strange land. I needed my boots to keep grounded, both physically and metaphorically.
One day, after a particularly horrendous fall, I limped to the nearest shoe store and bought myself a pair of Polish-made brogans that had soles with the sort of tread that looked like it belonged on the tires of an all-terrain vehicle. I then went home and put away my American-made boots, never to wear them again.
I guess it’s natural that we frantically hold on to objects and habits that seem familiar and connect us to our pasts. Sometimes, though, if we find the courage and open ourselves to the possibility of change, we discover that that clinging is unhelpful and unhealthy. We remain in an unfinished and infantile state if we can’t get rid of our security blankets. When new conditions require new behavior, we have to jettison the old. If we don’t eventually embrace the new, we can begin to look like relics. Furthermore, unhealthy clinging to the old can leave us bruised and battered.
In Poland, I held on the old as long as I could. It was foolish and quite literally painful for me to do so.
Today, I’m much quicker to recognize when I need to adapt. I no longer find new ways and ideas scary. This is a happy thing to report.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing some of your stories about adaptation in the “comments” section.