By Tomi Leslie
I questioned within. Me, take a line-dancing lesson? But I do love Country music. And so, I decided to try it.
Then, I shopped for the perfect boots. Soon, I entered a resale store and on the shoe rack, I glanced at pumps, flats, sandals, and high-heeled shoes. I eventually asked the middle-aged saleswoman. “Do you have cowgirl boots? I wear nine, narrow.”
She gestured for me to follow as she opened a back door. “I’m Maggie. And I live in this room–sleep on the cot.”
As we stepped within the tiny space, a skinny cat scampered from beneath a pile of dirty laundry, also exposing the upside down kitty-litter box. I choked as urine odors claimed the air. And I resisted the urge to run to the comfort of my tidy, fragrant-filled home. So I held my breath while Maggie led me to the closet. On the closet floor, there were several pairs of cowgirl boots. Should I peep inside for spiders? Fortunate for me, I kept my mouth shut. Choose tact over rude, I decided.
Soon, I sat on the floor and tried on the most pizzazz of all the boots, made of quality leather, trimmed in turquoise, and designed with a cluster of rhinestones covering each boot toe. I jumped to my feet and wiggled my toes. “Maggie, I’ll take these.” But after I mimicked a quick dance step, Maggie’s dark eyes glistened. She’s tearing, I surmised.
“Those boots belonged to my daughter. Two years ago, I learned of her fate, beaten to death in prostitution.”
Buying line-dancing boots, all of a sudden, mattered not to me. Maggie mattered, and the person who once wore the boots mattered–a lot. Maggie’s daughter was gone, probably never far from her mother’s mind, though.
The lingering cat odors of Maggie’s one-room home no longer nauseated me. Rather, my personal preferences for tidy and fragrance sickened me. I cried out for God to dismantle those comforts that almost caused me to flee this learning moment. She and I sat side by side on the cot amid the dingy sheets. All the while, I asked the Holy Spirit to heal her gut-wrenching pain. Also, to work through my inadequacy to walk in another’s shoes.
I believed God had orchestrated my desire to purchase line-dancing boots. And that He had led me to this particular resale store. I later claimed the moment as my stepping out lesson, the instant when I stepped from my shoes, into another’s. What was it like to grow up in one room nestled behind a storefront? What horrific incident chained any girl to prostitution? Who was the one person who could have made a difference? Would I make a difference in her brokenhearted mom’s life, or would Maggie fade from my life within a week?
Stepping out clarified my desire to live and write outside of self-sufficiency. How can I develop deep, complex characters if I myself hide amid shallow and comfortable scenes?
So when I think of the rhinestone-toed boots, I no longer think pizzazz, or of a line-dancing lesson. I revisit the shabby closet floor from where I first saw the sparkles of those boots. I then ask how to best develop vulnerable, inside out characters? I cringe as I answer my question. Choose to walk in another’s shoes.
Country music remains my favorite, but line dancing is not. Think I’ll sit out line dances that require certain steps. It seems that I have much more to learn from those dancing out of step.
Note: Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
Tomi Leslie describes herself in three phrases, Get real, Oh well, and Laugh a lot. She has completed her first suspense novel, Beyond Snowy Bridge; book one of a three-book series. And she draws on personal internal gems while seeking to develop more real and complex characters. But Tomi also exhibits an adventurous side. Whether scaling a Colorado mountain from a 4-WD vehicle, or walking near breaking waves of the Pacific in California, Tomi views places and people as gifts from God. Thus, she works to maintain deep, authentic relationships with her husband, her three adult children, and her long-term friends. She resides in Colorado Springs.