Finding My Identity in a Pair of Sneakers

I bought the red and black coq sportifs because I wanted to feel French, to blend in. You can tell a tourist by her shoes and I had moved beyond tourist status. I chose the sneakers partly for their kicky French fashion and partly for functionality – I walked everywhere in Paris.

Before these, I had replaced my more American shoes with European styles, but I had never taken the plunge to such a French brand. It wasn’t until after I spent time working on a farm, immersing myself in the language and culture and finally – finally! – feeling fluent enough, did I buy these shoes.

LIFEI wore them for about six months or so in Paris before leaving France for my next adventure. They were my hiking shoes as I trekked and explored Nepal for three months post-graduation. They took me into the Santa Cruz mountains where I struggled with my identity as a Christian, as a retail worker, as someone who didn’t exactly know what was happening next. They gave me identify – the girl who had lived in Paris. They even took me back to Europe, though not to France. This time, I wore them through Italy, feeling as though I may pass for French-ish, and not a total American.

I clung to the coq sportifs long after they were comfortable – when the insole was worn down and the funky smell permanently imbedded in the fabric. I eventually replaced them with another pair, bought from Zappos, which I still have, but they aren’t the same. They aren’t as authentic, though I still wear them. And when I do, I feel less mom-ish and more international.

In many ways, this new pair reflects who I am in many of the same ways as that original pair did. Living abroad shaped who I am – my worldview; my passions; my sensibilities. And yet. I don’t speak French anymore – I haven’t for over a decade. I don’t really travel anymore, either. I’m firmly in a phase where yoga pants and running shoes are a perfectly acceptable uniform.

There’s something about pulling out those French sneakers that makes me feel that certain piece of my identity. That piece that will travel again one day. That did have amazing experiences and will again.

These sneakers are reflected as Bea pulls out French books for kids that have been gifted over the years. They are reflected when Frank and I go to the opera or splurge on a beautiful dinner. They are reflected when we dream about exposing our kids to actual castles, rather than relying on the Disney version.

When I look back on that original pair, I’m glad I finally threw them away. They are not the person I am anymore. I am glad, too, that I bought that second pair – that pair that reminds me of who I was, of how that has shaped who I am, and that I am still on a journey of becoming.

I wonder which pair of shoes will take me through this next season?

This was inspired by a workshop I took at the Writers on the Rock Conference about the “Precious Ordinary,” led by John BlaseWhat is your precious ordinary?

Do you have an item or object that represents a specific phase in life? How has it changed in meaning over the years?

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4 thoughts on “Finding My Identity in a Pair of Sneakers

  1. I definitely have clothes that I have kept from a certain time or experience. Sigh…I guess there are some that need to be given away. There are new adventures that await and, maybe, new memorabilia to be kept!

  2. Annie, I so enjoyed this post, and learning a wee bit more about you. I am a blue-jeans girl, through and through. Even through the young boy years, they are my favorite go-to, and they express who I am. 🙂 I also have all of the home made baby blankets my boys received. They’re in storage, but I can’t bear to give them away. Our boys, like those blankets, were gifts to my husband and me. It’s silly, probably, but I don’t ever intend to give those blankets away. 🙂

    I love how you can see how the shoes from France helped form your identity, but they left in you a deeper understanding of who you are now. Just beautiful.

    Great post!

    1. Thanks, Jeanne! It was so fun to write! I definitely am a jeans girl, too. Especially since I have no reason to dress up these days, I try to buy jeans that look “fancier” (dark wash, etc) just so that when I wear my usual t-shirt, it looks a bit more like an outfit. 😉

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