68: Note to Myself

68: Note to Myself

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Note to Myself

If she never takes off her high-heeled shoes,
how will she ever know how far she could walk …?

~Germaine Greer

I had just snagged a sharp pencil to jot down some tips the newscaster was listing as ways to “recession proof” my budget. When I started writing, I realized that most of the tips were things I was already doing. The remainder were bad habits that, thankfully, I had never started. And just who were these people anyway who she claimed were splurging every day on those rip-off double mocha lattes?

I had already learned my hard lessons about frugality when Hurricane Katrina careened through east New Orleans claiming everything in its path. At that moment, my world collapsed along with the ailing levees, and unlike the current financial slump, it wasn’t a slow downward spiral—it was an implosion. Katrina struck with ferocity overnight, literally. And for some of her victims, the economic disaster just serves as a double whammy—chapter two in an already painful trek towards recovery.

Prior to Katrina, rebounding from a hurricane was a science most New Orleanians had become quite adept at. It was simple really. We’d just skip town, lay low, and then return in a day or so to continue life as we’d always known it. Pull up some wet carpet, replace a few essentials and keep on trucking. It’s a New Orleans thing. We’d done it countless times before. Not so this time.

Sometimes we’d even make a mini-vacation of it, nestle in a cozy cottage out of harm’s way and joke about scoring a few days off from work. This go-round, we had hunkered down in a Houston hotel sipping margaritas, lazing like tourists. As we watched the news coverage, it became increasingly clear that the situation was more threatening than we had thought. Instead of the usual go-signal to return home, we heard a panicked reporter announce the jaw-dropping news that water was surging up to twelve feet in some places, and we couldn’t re-enter New Orleans for another few months! Can’t go home? Can’t return to our jobs? Well, where will we go?

The day before the storm hit, I had been caught off guard with no time to rush home and pack before evacuating. I had just gone to the drycleaners earlier that day and, thankfully, had several changes of clothes in my car when I realized my options were scant: either head for the hills now or get trapped like a rat in town!

Like the overindulgent latte crowd, I had a few budget busters of my own, chief of which was an unquenchable shoe fetish I had developed long before Katrina. Like most of my girlfriends, I owned a busload of fashionable footwear. When I realized that I wouldn’t be returning home soon, and the only pair I now owned was the one on my feet, I went into a tailspin. In New Orleans, I had grown accustomed to collecting compliments on how stylishly my feet were decked out. I mean I was really working the shoes. In some circles, I had been hailed as the diva of shoes. For me to now possess only one pair surely had to be some cruel joke—one quirky twist of irony I was too shell-shocked to handle.

I rushed to a dollar store to stockpile some bare necessities, my mind reeling. For the moment I hadn’t fully comprehended the scope of all the things I’d need to purchase to stay afloat. All I knew was that I just had to have some new shoes! I spied a little shop right next door, dashed in, and plucked a pair from the shelf. These were quickie shoes—wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am shoes—shoes I would never have given a second glance, let alone permitted near my feet in my pre-Katrina days. In New Orleans, I’d scour the Web for hours in pursuit of the sleekest, most elegant boots. I only frequented the finer, upscale boutiques. I’d linger in the salon, enjoying the indulgence of snagging the latest trends to add to my already burgeoning cache. I loved the attention from the salesmen, laying box after beautiful box of the best the store had to offer at my feet. For me, purchasing shoes had become a drug. I didn’t care about negotiating a sale. I just wanted to look good.

The ones I now held in my hand were “sensible,” non-descript—a strange purchase in a strange store. I shoved them on my feet like a junkie copping a fix. At that moment, a sudden sadness seized me. I realized how my priorities had become displaced, how much stock I had put into getting approval from others. I thought about the countless possessions I had amassed over the years, room after room of excess—stuff I didn’t need or didn’t even remember I’d bought—a garage chock full of eye-candy likely buoyed up now by the river’s swift overflow.

Before Katrina, I’d occasionally sort through my shoe collection deciding which ones to give to charity. I’d rank them and concede only the well-worn ones—not the chic Italian slingbacks—those were keepers. Giving little thought to who might receive them, I just wanted them out of my way to make room for newer, more expensive styles. I even patted myself on the back for being so “generous” to the less fortunate.

That was four years ago. Now my “storm shoes” hold a special place of honor in my new home, mounted on a frame on my nightstand. They are the first thing I see when I open my eyes in the morning. They serve as a stark reminder of where my feet have trod. Those shoes carried me through a difficult time, kept me centered, somehow providing me enough breathing room to figure out what my next steps would be. But more than that, they remind me that I don’t need material things to affirm who I am in the world. On that fateful day, I had written myself this mental note with one indelible stroke: Girlfriend, be thankful for what you have—because it can all be gone in a flash. Cherish everything and everyone in your life. Share all you have with others. That simple advice is emblazoned on my heart. To it, I’ll scribble one additional caveat: Don’t wait for another hurricane or economic crisis to remind you of that. Now, there’s a note worth taking.

~Elaine K. Green

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