Working through college kept me out of trouble. Not that I didn’t get into plenty of shenanigans, but I was too busy working to party or hang out. When my dad and I visited the campus at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma the summer before my freshman year, I signed up for Work Study. I didn’t apply for cushy indoor jobs, shuffling papers, or answering phones. I chose what I knew best, mowing.
When the fall semester started, I showed up at the landscape department greenhouse, ready to go to work. I wore long-sleeved, button-down shirts to keep me out of the sun and cool. Shorts for ease of movement, and of course, Converse Chuck Taylor high tops. I had mowed for a week or so in the Oklahoma sun when I was called into the landscape department office by the director. He had interviewed me when my dad and I visited a couple of months earlier, but this was the first time I’d seen him since moving onto campus. He looked at me standing there, covered in dust and sweat and pointed to my Chucks. I thought he admired them, but he reached behind his desk and pulled out a pair of Army-issue canvas paratrooper boots. He said, “try these on and see if they fit.” They did.
I worked for three years straight driving tractors, pushing mowers, falling trees, shoveling snow, hauling brush, and cleaning out vacant buildings. Every minute in my green paratrooper boots. I was inspired. Someone believed in me. I paid my way through college in those boots.
Last year while visiting a friend’s cattle ranch, I offered to help with chores. He said, “sure; I’ll pick you up in the morning around seven am.” He showed up on an ATV, and I jumped in. It was like 1981 again. This guy looked straight down at my ankle-high hiking boots, smiled, and drove up the hill to his shop, where he pulled out a pair of muck boots and told me to try them on. They fit like a glove, so to speak. Less than 20 minutes into working around the cattle pens, it was pretty obvious my hiking boots would have been filled with muck. We hustled all morning, moving cattle, bringing hay with tractors, and putting out grain and mineral blocks. The whole time I felt confident and able to manage the terrain. I’ve worked cattle with that guy a few times since then, and every time I wear the muck boots he gave me. I’m no cowpoke, but those boots allowed me to focus on learning while helping. For a city slicker, I think I did a pretty good job.
A month ago, while in Wyoming, I showed up at a friend’s place to “go on an adventure.” I was wearing my favorite everyday shoes, Merell Barefoots. Super light and thin as wafers. My friend looked straight down at my shoes and said, grinning, “are you wearing those?”. And without waiting for an answer walked to his workbench and handed me a pair of mid-calf boots. “Too many snakes to be walking around in those silly things.” And once again, I put on a pair of boots someone gave me. I walked around in those boots for several days in the desert and, like the muck boots, have them in the van at the ready.
These things count. Boots aren’t worn to relax or feel easy in. They prepare one for the task ahead. I feel lucky to have crossed paths with others who care enough to give me something as simple as boots. Nothing fancy, no snappy sunglasses, no silly trinkets, boots. Not once has someone handed boots to me, causing me to think wearing them would be easy. These boots have hard work, walking, and thinking all over them. Life. Reality. What it takes. These men are men of few words, but they gave what they had. They want me to succeed.
Today I’m thankful for these simple gestures. I’m inspired to look for places I can share. A place and opportunity where someone giving it their best can get a boost up. A vote of confidence to do the job even better. There’s a whole world of people out there giving it their all who will stand taller, move stronger, and go home feeling loved, thanks to a new tool, a pair of gloves, and good boots.