The parable of the Wet Shoe

I’m writing this from the floor of a train carriage. The reason I’m on the floor is because I was bored of standing. It seems an appropriate place to be writing this from. (Full disclosure: actually it has taken me a couple of months to write this and in the intervening time I have moved from the train carriage floor. Soz)

The other night I went out for a bite to eat. I knew the weather wasn’t great but thought it was at least dry. Having left the block of flats, I discovered that it was in fact raining fairly hard and a lot of puddles of various shapes and sizes had formed. The shoes I’d selected for this outing were one of my favourite and much worn pairs of trainers that are extremely comfortable and extremely un-waterproof. The main feature of their un-waterproofness is that they have a very low freeboard i.e. like a ship that sits low in the water, there isn’t much distance between the floor and the first place where water can get in. You can see where this is going.

So, out into the night I stepped and for the first couple of minutes I managed to maintain dry feet but then disaster struck. Among the shadows of the night, I stepped in what must have been quite a small puddle and took on water very quickly. Fortunately I was not afloat at the time and so capsize or sinking was not a problem but it did have the immediate effect of thoroughly wetting my right sock and henceforth, my foot.

I still had a fair way to go (across Waterloo Bridge as a matter of fact) to reach my chosen eatery. My now thoroughly sodden sock squelched in my shoe and made the whole perambulation thoroughly un-enjoyable. I harrumphed a lot. I was agitated. It had ruined my evening. I kicked myself for not having worn stouter footwear. I had only covered a tiny part of my total return journey, in addition to the fact that I would now have to sit through dinner with my wet shoe/sock/foot combo. What a nightmare.

I’m not normally prone to taking such discomfort so badly. I did used to be in the army – the infantry of all places – and had suffered a lot worse. However, I was normally prepared, both mentally and physically. I would be expecting the unpleasantness and would have the right equipment to deal with it. This was different. I was just going out for dinner and expected dry feet. But that, dear reader, was not what I got.

And (sorry, I know I shouldn’t start a sentence, let alone a whole paragraph, with a conjunction but I don’t care) such is life. Life can really suck. Just when you want to go out for your metaphorical dinner, you get a metaphorical wet sock to go along with it.

As I walked, harrumphingly, across the bridge I had a word with myself (probably out loud as I’m wont to do). I had a choice to make. I could take the wet shoe/sock/foot thing as a personal affront from the universe and either sack the whole undertaking or at the very least remain miserable for the rest of the evening. Or I could suck it the fuck up. Not because other people were having a worse time (which they undoubtedly were) or because I had something to prove, but because it was, is always, a choice. If we hold onto the negativity that life doles out, we only drag ourselves down. There’s no competition to see who is having the shittest day, and you win a lollipop if you’ve managed to maintain your grumpiness the loudest and longest. You’re just seeing yourself off. Wasting valuable time.

So, how does the parable end? I got on with it. I even laughed at myself for being so miserable about something so ridiculous as a wet shoe. The stoics we’re onto something. I lived to fight another day.

Lastly, a wonderfully ridiculous but profound quote. It comes from Jocko Willink, who looks like an orc (I’d never say it to his face, he’s nails). He said “If you want to be tougher, be tougher.” Amazing. Sounds like total bullshit but he’s on the money. If you’re going through a tough time, you either get on with it or you capitulate, it’s entirely up to you and it’s a choice you make, right then and there.

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