Shoelaces: The things that cause memories (WiR Guest Post)

The Writers Wrest’s virtual Writer in Residence has been leading the way this week in the constant bravery that is putting pen to paper to share words and a piece of yourself with the public. Another thought provoking piece, a lovely train of thought and traversing. Thank you for sharing more of your work JDH!

Shoelaces: the humble shoelace has a history that stretches back to 2000 B.C. during ancient Mesopotamian times. The ancient Greeks wore sandals that were fastened with rawhide lacing. However, it was the Roman soldiers who popularized the use of shoes and therefore shoelaces to Western Europe. It has been suggested that the shoelace was invented in England in 1790. Prior to shoelaces simple pieces of leather, buttons, and buckles were favoured. Did you know that those little plastic or metal bits at the end of a shoelace are called an Aglet?! For those of you who didn’t, neither did I until I came upon the question in a crossword puzzle recently. Never gave it a thought.

However, there are times when I do give the humble shoelace some thought. One of those times was just the other day when I sat out on the back porch putting on my runners in preparation for an evening walk with one of my sisters and her Koolie, who is named, ‘Coolie’. As I put on my shoes it dawned on me that my shoes had no laces. When did this happen? When did I go from laces to no laces? When did I simplify the task of donning shoes? Did my life become so busy that I had not two minutes to spare to tie laces?

Yes. Life did get too busy. As it does. However, in actual fact I acquired those lace-less shoes in the very year that I made the decision to slow my life down. The very year I decided to change the pace of nine-to-five to whatever and wherever and come-what-may (I am still yet to convince those about me that we should pack up the home and become gypsies. Yes, I would prefer a horse and cart). Those lace-less shoes served as a portal of a different kind today…

It would appear that the humble shoelace is on par with H.G. Wells’ Time Machine for I had been transported to another time and place. There I was, aged five, sitting at the end of an open corridor at the very first school I attended. I was feeling rather pleased and proud with the effort and outcome of my lace tying expedition. It was at that moment that I heard my brother, David, ask what it was I was doing. As I explained to him that I had just tied my laces on my own for the very first time I indicated to the series of knots I had just tied. Boy-Scout material I was. A lace tier. Not yet. Apparently.

In the grand scheme of things, I had tied my laces. So what if they weren’t tied in the manner that others of the world believe is the “correct” manner. Those laces were not going to come undone on their own. Not Ever. Not with ten well tied knots in them (technically, bows are knots, right! So, technically speaking, I had tied my laces). Older brothers will do what older brothers do though. He patiently untied each knot. Spent all of little lunch (recess to some of you) and big lunch time teaching me how to tie laces. By the end of the day, I could not only tie a bow, I could tie double bows!

The shoelaces take me forward five or so years from the shoelace tying adventure to the time when same brother and I were riding our bikes home from the local pet shop with one kitten in hand. He being the older and more skilled at bike riding had the duty of carrying the kitten. One ditch and a tumble or two later he rose with one kitten unscathed held ever so proudly in the air with the words, ‘See that! Not to worry, it didn’t touch the ground, your kitten is safe’. It was also his duty to explain to our parents that he made the executive decision to get the kitten for me…

Fast forward ten years, many adventures with said brother have taken place and many memories are to be had. One of the fondest memories I carry with me of my brother is the one when both he and I and our adopted brother were driving in his busted up old Ute when it started to rain. As my brother nudged me with his elbow, he asked the other brother to wind up the window. There he was frantically winding away. No glass was appearing though. He couldn’t work out what was happening. He had fallen prey to the humour of the other. We all laughed so hard our stomachs ached.

I wonder, in the here and now, did our stomachs ache from the laughter of the event or was the aching feeling we felt for and from something other than the event… something we all three knew was waiting and lurking on the fringes of a life… were we trying to laugh away a sinister creature who had come crawling like a thief into our lives? Or was our laughter the payment for Charon to ferry us, or one, through the Cocytus? Is laughter synonymous to wailing, do you think? Both certainly can bring tears. Both can and do make the physical body ache. And both go to the core of one’s very being.

Several months prior to the window winding event my brother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. He had not many months left to give to this world. Yet, he had the grace to maintain humour. He had the conviction to carry on with life for as long as his body would allow it to be so. For a young man of twenty-four years of age, he conducted himself in a manner that far exceeded his years. His thoughtfulness and mindfulness are his legacies. As is his humour. I guess one wouldn’t expect anything less from one who protects kittens and teaches the younger to tie shoelaces.

One can only ponder the notion as to whether or not the inventor of the shoelace had an inkling to the power that such an invention could have on the lives of others. Did the inventor imagine or give a thought to the idea that somewhere in the future in a different place and time that their humble invention would serve as a time machine for memories of others? Perhaps not. For today though, the humble shoelace, coupled with its aglets, was one of those things that causes memories.

One goes through a strange and sometimes turbulent ride when memories choose to invade or swamp one’s mind. One single, simple thought leads to many profound thoughts. One singular memory has the tendency to create a plethora of random or linking memories that takes one further and deeper into a journey through a passage in time. The shoelace has brought forth a flood of words that one has encountered throughout time, on life and death. Take for example the following:

“Death commences too early… almost before you’re half-acquainted with life…you meet the other”. (Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof)

Or such as this:

“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins.” (Edgar Allan Poe, The Premature Burial)

Or maybe this:

“Here was a man who now for the first time found himself looking into the eyes of death.—who was passing through one of those rare moments of experience when we feel the truth of commonplace, which is as different from what we call knowing it, as the vision of waters upon the earth is different from the delirious vision of water which cannot be had to cool the burning tongue—when the commonplace ‘We must all die’ transforms itself suddenly into the acute consciousness ‘I must die-and soon’, then death grapples us, and his fingers are cruel; afterwards, he may come to fold us in his arms as our mother did, and our last moment of dim earthly discerning may be like the first”. (George Eliot, Middlemarch)

The thoughts, through the portal of the shoelace, now brings one to the words of one’s father. I recall my father saying at the time of the passing of my brother that he wished he had the same belief in God, and understanding of death that my religion had given to me. In the not so far future, a shift in those beliefs was to take place. For what life metes out, can at times jade one. The words of George Orwell are more in-line with present beliefs –

“A normal human being does not want the Kingdom of Heaven – he wants life on earth to continue. This is not solely because he is “weak”, “sinful” and anxious for a “good time”. Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise. Ultimately it is the Christian attitude which is self -interested and hedonistic, since the aim is always to get away from the painful struggle of earthly life and find eternal peace in some kind of Heaven or Nirvana. The humanist attitude is that the struggle must continue and that death is the price of life”.

Shoelace, oh shoelace. What have you done to me today?

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