80: The Shoelaces

80: The Shoelaces

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

The Shoelaces

I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.

~Pablo Casals

It was a typical holiday season at school — scraps of ribbon everywhere, candy canes stuck to shoes, and kids as hyper as popcorn kernels in the microwave. How were we — the teachers — ever going to make it to Break?

As a way of promoting service learning, and for students to better understand the reason for the season, my class adopted a thirteen-year-old boy to support. I invited students to contribute a small amount of money or to create handmade gifts. We raised enough to purchase a new pair of sneakers for our adoptee.

One day, after school, I invited volunteers to join me at the local sporting-goods store. When my elves arrived, we walked up and down the aisles, assessing various styles that might appeal to our giftee. We knew the correct size, but no other specifications were provided. My helpers eventually narrowed down the choices to two pairs of Adidas and one pair of Nikes, which caught my eye because of their neon laces. The students giggled at my choice, stating that the laces were just too “out there.” I feigned a sad, puppy-dog face, but smiled inside at the camaraderie we had built as a class during this project.

“Laces don’t matter if the shoe is good,” a voice added. We turned to see Terence standing nearby.

“Hey, T,” one friend called.

“When did you sneak in?” another added.

“We’re debating the choices. What do you think?” I asked.

He studied the options. He explained how Nikes were designed to support jumpers, specifically basketball players. As an athlete, Terence was respected by his peers, so it was no surprise when a unanimous decision was made.

When school resumed in January, our team received a “Mahalo Letter” from the local charity, which I hung on the bulletin board for all to see. And though the identity of the recipient remained anonymous, the students were happy to know their efforts had made a difference.

One day, Terence approached my desk and asked to borrow a Sharpie. Due to graffiti on campus, the pens were considered contraband, prompting me to ask, “So, what do you need it for?”

He hesitated. “Never mind. I can use a regular one,” he said, and walked away. Surprised, but unable to pursue the conversation, I let him go.

Another day passed, and I found Terence elbow deep in a tub of markers. I inquired, “Need some help?”

Shaking his head, he pulled one pen out at a time, drawing a line on scratch paper. “Just cleaning out the dried-up ones,” he said.

“Well, thanks. That’s a job I always dread,” I said.

When he finished, Terence asked, “Can I take these home to work on a project?” I hesitated for fear the supplies might not return. However, I also knew Terence’s family probably didn’t have many resources, and he had never proved to be untrustworthy, so I agreed.

As he headed out, I caught a glimpse of a long neon string, and what appeared to be the outline of shoes inside a bag. I paused. It was the same neon color as the laces on the shoes we purchased for the holiday donation. Did Terence receive the shoes but was too embarrassed to wear them? Was he using pens to alter their appearance? Was Terence our class’s adoptee?

I asked the agency and I was assured that Terence wasn’t the recipient of our gift. Still, I was confused and curious about his actions. Pondering the situation while at the drugstore checkout line, I spotted a rack of shoelaces in plain colors. My mind raced to Terence, and I wondered if new laces would spare him the time it would take to blacken the neon set. I grabbed a black-and-white pair and completed my transaction.

The following day, I asked Terence to wait after class. “Thanks for cleaning out the old markers,” I started.

“Yep,” he replied, eyeing me suspiciously.

I paused and added, “By the way, I couldn’t help but notice the shoes you were carrying last week…” I pulled out a small plastic bag and extended my hand. “Not sure if you could use these or not?”

Terence looked at the black-and-white laces and froze. Had I crossed a line? Was this an insensitive move on my part? I started to retract my hand, but stopped as Terence reached out. He never looked up or spoke, but he accepted the small bag and slid it into his pocket, then left the classroom silently.

The next day, Terence seemed unfazed. He smiled at friends, volunteered to take a note to another classroom, and completed tasks as he had done all year. As students were dismissed, I took special notice of his shoes, expecting to see new Nikes with even newer laces, but was disappointed to spot his normal Converse shoes. Hmmm, I thought. Maybe the laces weren’t such a good idea. Another week went by, but no new shoes appeared. I resigned myself to the fact that perhaps he was using them at home. At least, I thought, our school-based relationship hadn’t been compromised.

In late January, a new student enrolled at school. The counselor matched current students with new ones as buddies to show them around campus. Unbeknownst to me, Terence volunteered to be Mitchell’s buddy. At recess, the boys stopped by my room. I welcomed Mitchell to our team and thanked Terence for being such a great ambassador. He smiled and shared, “Ms. C always has supplies if you need them.” His mention of supplies reminded me of the black markers, hence reminding me of the shoes. Absentmindedly, I looked toward the floor as the boys exited. Terence was still wearing his Converse sneakers, but Mitchell was sporting a new pair of Nikes — with black-and-white laces!

The light bulb went on. Terence wasn’t trying to “save face” for himself, but for a friend! Later, I learned that Mitchell’s father had been unemployed, but recently moved the family to our town when he secured a job. Terence and Mitchell’s families attended the same church, and the boys played ball together. Coincidentally, the church worked in partnership with the charitable organization that solicited donations during the holidays for struggling families. The pieces fell into place. Mitchell settled into our school seamlessly, and no one was the wiser about the shoes, which had been conveniently semi-scuffed. Neither Terence nor I said a word to each other about the laces, but we seemed to share this charitable secret together.

On the last day of school, several students brought goodies for the teachers as tokens of appreciation. I had my fill of cookies, handmade cards, and coffee gift certificates, but it was the anonymous braided keychain made from bright neon shoelaces that was my most memorable gift of all!

~Sandy Cameli

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