Chen Du

Walking in the Right Shoes

As a relatively tall woman, I have worn all kinds of shoes in life except high-heeled and pointed shoes. Not until 49 did I learn how to select the best shoes for myself, e.g., the heel counter should be a whole and intact patch so as not to scrape my heel skin.

Some shoes are just so tight at the toe box, the upper, and/or the heel counter that they squeeze and/or chafe the skin on the instep or heel of one or both feet. Sometimes, a pair of socks or bandages can solve this problem. Sometimes the problem is with ourselves but not the shoes we wear. For example, if one’s feet are naturally too wide, or too thick, or if one has a high foot arch/bow legs, flat feet/knock knees, or if one’s feet have chilblains, it will definitely influence his/her experience of walking in shoes. Only when one knows his own problems can he know what problems his shoes might have.

Very often, we don’t understand ourselves, let alone others. People all say we need to walk in others’ shoes; nevertheless, in my opinion, before we do that, we need to understand the shoes we wear, e.g., the color, style, size, weight, durability, understand ourselves, and walk in the right shoes ourselves first.

Indeed, walking in the right shoes is the process of knowing oneself. What is the way I walk? What kind of shoes I like most? What kind of body language do I need my shoes to help to express? What kind of personal image or profile do I want to show to the public by wearing a specific pair of shoes? Also, I have to take care of the feelings of my companion(s) most time shorter than I and the feelings of the crowd in this oriental culture as very often I need to merge into it instead of standing out, and sometimes, I just want to hide myself by wearing shoes that can “shorten” me.

Also, walking in the right shoes is the process of growing, maturing, and revealing mentally and even spiritually. Not until 49 did I understand wearing the right shoes is not to show to others or help me look more beautiful, but to make myself happy, content, comfortable, agile, efficient, and confident. Not until then did I realize only one knows his own shoes best, knows what kind of shoes fits himself best, and knows himself best as well, just like the well-known English saying “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.”

It’s possible that throughout our lives we have been looking for the right shoes, or have missed them when they lie quietly at the turn of a corner in our life, or have abandoned them when they look dirty or ugly, old or worn-out, out of date or spare, useless or boring, just like we pursue Mr./Miss Right, genuine and lasting friendship, an ideal career, or other right things in life.

Moreover, it’s possible that the right shoes wouldn’t last long and would be worn out a few years later or even sooner. It’s true that throughout one’s life, it’s difficult to find the same kind of best-fitting shoes for more than once as over time they may be out of fashion, out of stock, no more produced or unavailable. Also, it’s very difficult to wear one pair of shoes for a lifetime. Therefore, we have to try our best to take good care of and cherish each pair of shoes that fits us best.

There may not be such thing as perfect shoes as perfection is relative, and imperfection, absolute. What’s right for us may not be perfect. Nevertheless, we still need to seek for, value, walk in, and experience the right shoes to savor what they bring to us, teach us, enlighten us with, transform us into, and uplift us to. This is also true to those shoes that do not seem to be right for us as they make good comparisons, contrasts, and lessons. One probably can’t always walk in the right shoes. This is life, isn’t it?

Truly, walking in the right shoes is a kind of meditation, zen, philosophy, and ideology as it can either support, raise, totter or topple us. Therefore, every day I flick the dust from the past off my shoes quietly, and march forward in my rocky life’s journey in the right shoes…

Chen Du has a Master’s Degree in Biophysics from SUNY at Buffalo and another from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In the United States, her essays were published by The Dead Mule, Hamline University English Department, and In Parentheses. “Walking in the Right Shoes” was longlisted by the CNF Flash Contest of Invisible City (Literary Journal of the MFA in Writing Program at the University of San Francisco). A set of five poems written by Yan An and co-translated by her and Xisheng Chen won the 2021 Zach Doss Friends in Letters Memorial Fellowship. Yan An’s poetry book, A Naturalist’s Manor, translated by her and Xisheng Chen was published by Chax Press. She is also the author of the book Successful Personal Statements. Find her online at